Second evacuation in Texas city hit by explosion, chemical fire

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HOUSTON (Reuters) – Authorities on Thursday lifted a second evacuation in a week for thousands of residents of a Texas city after workers stopped leaks of cancer-causing chemicals at a petrochemical plant hit by explosions.

Residents of Port Neches, Texas, a city of about 14,000 people 95 miles (153 km) east of Houston, were told to flee late on Wednesday after air monitors detected elevated levels of butane and butadiene, cancer-causing petrochemicals.

Butadiene is the main product of the TPC Group’s [TPCL.UL] facility in the city struck by last week’s blaze and blast, which injured three workers and prompted a two-day evacuation.

The top executive of Jefferson County, Jeff Branick, lifted the latest order less than a day after calling for the evacuation. Workers at TPC on Thursday stemmed butadiene leaks, reducing air over the city to non-irritating levels, Port Neches fire officials said. Port Neches is a city in Jefferson County.

Schools in Port Neches and nearby Groves were closed for the rest of the week. They had been allowed to return on Tuesday, a week after the first blaze.

Officials have not determined the cause of last week’s explosion and fire, which began in a butadiene processing unit.

“There are a lot of these are old plants that ought to be shut down,” said Neil Carmen, clean air program director for the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club, an environmental group that has sued industrial plants over toxic emissions. “TPC is 75 years old.”

TPC Group did not respond to requests for information on the butadiene emissions.

The fire at the 218-acre (88-hectare) plant, which makes flammable chemicals used in the production of synthetic rubber and a gasoline additive, was put out on Tuesday after burning for six days. Officials earlier called for an evacuation of about 60,000 residents from several cities in southeast Texas over worries of further explosions.

Elevated butadiene levels had been measured in some parts of the city and could cause dizziness, nausea, headaches, irritated eyes and throat, the statement said. They did not pose a serious health risk, or a flammability or explosion risk, it said.

The colorless, odorless gas will break down in a few hours or days after exposure to sunlight, according to the official website set up to disclose information on the fire.

A local temporary shelter for residents was re-established, the statement added.

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