A chemical fire broke out at a Nexeo Solutions plant on Friday, November 16, 2012 in Garland, Texas. The two alarm fire was contained, but a pillar of black smoke rose to 7,000 feet according to the National Weather Service. As the fire burned, containers of chemicals were engulfed causing several explosions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitored air quality in the area but tests showed no immediate danger for people in the area. The Garland Health Department also tested the water and found no contamination from the fire. The fire was found to contain mostly methanol, a highly flammable liquid used to produce materials such as plastics, paints, and fuels. Methanol is poisonous if ingested. Also burning in the chemical fire was toluene, a high-powered solvent found in products such as nail polish and glue. Toluene can be dangerous at high levels. The EPA continued to test the air in Garland and nearby Dallas through the night. Businesses within a quarter mile of the facility were evacuated as a precaution until the following morning. The fire was contained to a loading rack, using first water, then sand, and was allowed to burn out on its own.
The plant is shared between Nexeo Solutions, LLC and Valvoline. The facility was bought by Nexeo Solutions in April 2011 from Ashland Chemicals. Nexeo, which is based in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands is a chemical and plastic producer. They own facilities in the U.S., Europe, and Asia and employ 2,200 people.
A Nexeo plant in Massachusetts was fined $7,000 in October 2011 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the serious violation of exposing employees to chemical fire hazards due to improper storage of organic peroxides near flammable liquids and other combustible material. . The company reached a settlement with OSHA for a reduced fine of $4,500.
The Garland facility received 4 notices from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality during 2011 for failure to prevent unauthorized discharge of industrial and hazardous wastes, failure to update the notice of registration to reflect current active container, failure to conduct all required training annually, and failure to conduct all required weekly inspections of the facility’s security equipment. Three of the violations were considered minor and one moderate. Notices are not considered violations. Overall the TCEQ gave the facility a satisfactory rating and it has had no violations during 2012.
The cause of the chemical fire at the Garland facility has not yet been determined and is still being investigated. All of the 41 employees at the plant escaped without injury.
Safety protocols and procedures are paramount to a company’s vitality. Management and employees both need continuing education on fire safety, as well as general tenets of day-to-day workplace safety. Managers and supervisors should consider taking an OSHA Approved safety training course that outlines management protocols for employee safety.