Updated on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, at 3:30 p.m.
Over 30 people are being treated for non-life threatening injuries, after a fire broke out at an Exxon Mobil oil refinery in Baytown on Wednesday morning, sending a large plume of smoke into the air.
Plant manager Jason Duncan told reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that 37 people are being treated for non-life threatening injuries such as minor burns.
#BREAKING Shelter-in-place just ordered because of this fire burning at the @exxonmobil plant in Baytown. The plants says the fire is in a unit that contains polypropylene material. The shelter area is west of the plant and South of 330. https://t.co/976h67fk4h pic.twitter.com/Es7ax5PZZO
— Brett Buffington (@BBuffingtonHTX) July 31, 2019
He said they’re working to shut down units at the site and isolate the source of the fire.
“We do not know what the cause of that incident is, but I can tell you we’re going to work diligently to figure it out, so it doesn’t happen again,” Duncan said.
The city of Baytown lifted a shelter in place Wednesday afternoon, saying that “air monitoring has not detected any levels of concern.”
Previously, a shelter in place was issued for areas west of the plant and south of 330, as a precaution.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the fire was contained, but still burning.
The City of Baytown is issuing a precautionary order to Shelter in Place due to an emergency at ExxonMobil Baytown Area. Areas west of ExxonMobil should Shelter In Place. See the map below. Please RT. pic.twitter.com/WWXOg3RpNf
— City of Baytown, TX (@CityofBaytown) July 31, 2019
Exxon Mobil said the unit affected “processes light hydrocarbons including propane and propylene.”
“So what is on fire is a propane and propylene mixture, it’s a light hydrocarbon mixture,” Duncan said. “There’s been non-detectible quantities, we’ve seen no adverse impact to the environment, based on the fence line monitoring and the monitoring in the community that we’ve done.”
Exxon Mobil said it was conducting air quality monitoring at the site, and cooperating with regulatory agencies.
The Harris County Pollution Control has also said they are responding to the fire and will conduct air-quality monitoring.
Television video from the fire showed dark smoke rising into the air from a large metal stack that was on fire. Crews were dousing the stack and surrounding structures with water.
In a statement, Exxon Mobil said the fire occurred at its Olefins plant, which produces ethylene, a chemical used to make plastic and industrial products. Ethylene is highly flammable. According to records kept by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Olefins plant had 68 tons (69 metric tons) of ethylene on site in 2017. It also had large quantities of other potentially hazardous chemicals, including ammonia, benzene, and propylene.
A fire has occurred at our Baytown Olefins Plant. Please see below for more information: pic.twitter.com/zGdmtd3U4Z
— ExxonMobil Baytown Area (@ExxonMobilBTA) July 31, 2019
The Olefins plant is part of the company’s 3,400-acre refinery complex in Baytown. It is one of eight plants that Exxon agreed to retrofit with anti-pollution technology in a settlement with the U.S. government. The company also agreed to pay $2.5 million in fines to federal and state authorities after being accused of violating the Clean Air Act with industrial flares from its factories.
Wednesday’s fire is the latest one to have taken place at Houston-area petrochemical facilities this year, including one at another facility on the Exxon Mobil Baytown complex.
On March 16, a fire erupted at a refinery on Exxon Mobil’s Baytown complex. The fire was extinguished hours later, but Harris County officials say it continued to release toxic pollutants for eight more days. The county has sued Exxon Mobil, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Air Act.
Also in March, a fire burned for days at a petrochemical storage facility in nearby Deer Park and caused chemicals to flow into a nearby waterway.
And in April, one worker died after a tank holding a flammable chemical caught fire in nearby Crosby.
Associated Press Writer Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.