TEXAS - Update...Thousands Flee Acid Tank Danger Near Houston...

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Update to post by Carl Jenkins: http://greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=002s9c

Title: Thousands Flee Acid Tank Danger Near Houston

Story Filed: Wednesday, March 29, 2000 3:46 PM EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Thousands evacuated a one-mile ring around a chemical plant in the Houston area on Wednesday where firefighters feared that an overheated tank of acrylic acid would explode only a few miles from the site of a fatal explosion at a plastics plant on Monday.

No injuries were reported Wednesday at the Rohm and Haas Co. (RAH.N) chemical plant in Deer Park, Texas, a largely industrial suburb of Houston and near Pasadena, Texas where one person was killed and 74 injured at a Phillips Petroleum (P.N) plant on Monday.

Deer Park firefighters on Wednesday hosed down a tank of highly flammable acrylic acid to cool it off and prevent it from exploding, said Rohm and Haas spokesman Jack Coe.

By Wednesday afternoon, temperatures in the tank had stabilized, lessening the danger of explosion, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Jeff Novak.

``It sounds like the possibility (of an explosion) is still there if there is an ignition source but right now (firefighters) do have it under control,'' Novak said, adding that the main concern was that the tank's temperatures not rise to a point that the highly flammable acid would ignite even without a spark.

That danger, he said, seems to have subsided.

Port of Houston officials will hold a meeting at 2:30 p.m. CST (2030 GMT) to assess the danger and decide whether to reopen the Houston Ship Channel, which has been shut since Wednesday morning, Novak said.

The U.S. Coast Guard is likely to reopen the channel, which was closed near the Rohm and Haas Deer Park plant, later Wednesday afternoon, Novak said.

The ship channel is a main maritime artery that links the Houston area's dense oil and chemical plants with Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Shutting the channel, which is about 400-feet wide near the Rohm and Haas plant in Deer Park, meant at least two tankers were kept from entering the channel and had to wait offshore, Novak said.

The Houston-Deer Park-Pasadena area is host to several major oil refineries and dozens of petroleum products plants such as chemical and plastics plants.

Rohm and Haas, the maker of Morton Salt, evacuated at least 1,000 of its own workers and contractors who were at its Deer Park plant and advised a dozen other plants in a 1-mile (1.6 km) ring also to leave the area.

Acrylic acid is highly flammable and can easily irritate the skin, nose and throat when breathed, said Melanie Miller, a spokesman for Rohm and Haas. It is used in the making of paints as well as a super-absorbent for disposable baby diapers.

Shell Oil Co.'s 280,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery in Deer Park fell within that 1-mile ring, but Dennis Winkler, a Shell spokesman, said the company chose not to evacuate and would instead monitor the situation.

At least two chemical plants in Deer Park evacuated non-essential workers because of the danger -- a Hampshire Chemical plant and a plant owned by Occidental Chemical, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY.N). Hampshire Chemical is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co. (DOW.N).

Miller said Rohm and Haas detected the high temperatures at the tank about 8:30 a.m. CST (1430 GMT). Coe said the tank can hold up to 250,000 gallons of acrylic acid, and was about a third full.

The Coast Guard shut the Houston Ship Channel about 9:45 a.m. CST (1545 GMT) from Light No. 132 to Light No. 139, Novak said.

Regarding the fatal explosion at Phillips' plastics plant, investigators from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Wednesday continued their search for clues to the cause. The Monday blast in Pasadena was the third fatal accident at the sprawling Phillips plant in 11 years. Those blasts at the Phillips plant have killed 26.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 29, 2000

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