The night before Thanksgiving, 30,000 people near the Texas Petroleum Chemicals Group plant (TPC) in Port Neches, Texas were evacuated due to explosions which led to asbestos warnings. The two explosions sent debris flying “like a missile” over four miles according to Judge Jeff Branick, head of Jefferson County’s Office of Emergency Management. In addition to asbestos and other toxic debris ejected over the large area, a large amount of butadiene and raffinate chemicals was released through the fires and smoke.
This geographical area along the Gulf of Mexico coast east of Houston is covered in oil and chemical facilities, so false warnings and fires are familiar. But these explosions brought thoughts of the 1947 Texas City disaster which killed hundreds when a ship exploded. Evacuation orders included Port Neches, Groves, Nederland, parts of Port Arthur, and the communities of Central Gardens and Beauxart Gardens.
Warnings about touching any new debris in yards or roofs were sent out quickly since it was known asbestos, a toxic mineral, was used throughout the affected buildings.
Why asbestos warnings?
Asbestos was found in yards 1½ miles from the blast. It was used extensively in these buildings – some built in the 1940s. It is a known carcinogen that can cause the deadly disease mesothelioma, along with lung cancer and asbestosis. It is devious as it can take up to 50 years from the time of asbestos exposure before the manifestation of cancer. Parents are concerned because they are finding asbestos in yards where their children play every day.
Removal is not a DIY project, as the microscopic fibers in asbestos can be inhaled easily. Any removal must be done by abatement contractors experienced and certified in this dangerous job. A hotline – 866-601-5880 – is in place for anyone finding asbestos.
Why was asbestos used?
Asbestos was thought a miracle mineral in the early 20th century and even much further back in history. It began to be used in many products by the 1930s until 1980 when it was no longer approved for most products. It is flexible, strong, heat resistant, and can easily be made into a wide range of products. Boilers, shingles on roofs and exteriors, tile mastic, insulation, pipe coverings, brake pads, and textured paint are a few of many uses. As long as the products are undisturbed so that fibers are not released, it is not dangerous. But, as these products age, are disturbed by renovation or teardown, or by disaster such as these explosions, fibers are released and inhaled. The actual fibers are too small to see with the naked eye.
Local and outside agencies were quick to respond, beginning with asbestos warnings.
• A week after the explosions, the fire is finally extinguished. No “all clear” yet as response measures are still in process.
• Counselors are available for those needing emotional support as well as needing more answers to their health questions.
• Air and water quality are continually monitored by federal, state, and local agencies.
• Claims are addressed by visiting homes in the highest impacted areas and for those living outside of those areas, appointments are made to view damage and ensure those who sustained damage have submitted insurance claims.
• Any person or family included in the mandatory evacuation should fill out an online form if they are requesting reimbursement.
Asbestos remains a primary concern. If everyone finding asbestos reports it and gets it remediated by professionals, the chances of future health problems are much reduced. However, if warnings are not taken seriously and DIY measures are performed, it could harm not only those doing the work, but could spread it further – even through their clothes in interactions with other people.
Mesothelioma is still a terminal disease with no actual cure and must be taken seriously.