A mere four months after a Houston chemical plant fire made headlines, another Houston area plant has exploded into flames.
The ExxonMobil Baytown Complex caught on fire Wednesday morning despite being one of the “most technologically advanced refining and petrochemical complexes in the world,” as Exxon describes it. That’s why the city of Baytown—located about 25 miles outside of Houston—issued a shelter in place for residents near the plant. So far, six people are being treated for injuries, according to a statement from Exxon.
The plant is capable of refining 584,000 barrels of crude oil a day (all which are hastening the demise of our planet and health). It also produces plastics—which come from fossil fuels—and other chemicals. The section of the plant that’s on fire is responsible for making polypropylene often found in plastics, according to the city. That means the air is potentially unsafe to breathe and residents are being urged to stay indoors, shut their windows, and turn off their air conditioning. The latter isn’t great in a place where the heat is up to 89 degrees Fahrenheit as of mid-afternoon.
The company hasn’t yet indicated a cause of the explosion. This isn’t the plant’s first rodeo with fire: In March, it suffered a separate explosion and again back in 2016. These events don’t just pose an immediate danger to the plant workers; they pose a health risk to the communities who live closest to these facilities.
Nearly half of Baytown, Texas, is Latinx, per the U.S. Census. Between 2005 and 2010, the facility illegally released 8 million pounds of pollutants, as the Texas Observer alleged in a report. The people of Baytown are left to suffer the consequences. A state loophole allows companies like Exxon to get away with this offense if it was due to something unexpected like a shutdown, per the Observer.
Until the explosion’s caused is found, we won’t know who’s to blame. All we know is that that black cloud? The Houston area has seen more than enough of them in recent years.