Plant Explosion Lawyers
Representing Victims of Plant Fires, Refinery Accidents & Factory Explosions
There have been more deaths from chemical and gas explosions in the U.S. than any other country.
Though it might not seem as though these explosions occur often, plant workers are at risk of explosions every day, and when they do happen, the effects are devastating. The force of the blast often kills those standing close to it and severely injure the workers who are further away from it. Survivors of these explosions experience third-degree burns, broken bones, and being crushed under airborne objects and debris.
Plant Explosion Attorneys Serving Clients in Texas, Louisiana & Nationwide
Plant and refineries are a common sight throughout Texas and the nation as a sign of a booming economy and ever-growing industrial sector. Unfortunately, with these numerous facilities, serious accidents can occur—such as explosions, fires, and other catastrophic incidents. Take, for example, the 2005 explosion in Texas City, or the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. Both of these were catastrophic.
Workers in the industrial industry face potential dangers every day.
Unfortunately, the U.S. has the highest number of deaths resulting from plant explosions. Studies have shown that the heat emitted from refinery explosions can be over 1,000 degrees. For those who work at locations such as fertilizer plants, the threat of a fire or explosion is a constant reality. If you or a loved one were injured in a plant explosion, the injuries, and disabilities that result could be life-altering. In many cases, the accident is so severe that workers do not survive the blast and subsequent fires. You deserve the best injury attorney behind you.
It is critical to have your case reviewed by a plant and refinery explosion lawyer you can trust. Arnold & Itkin's Houston plant explosion lawyers have a track record that includes billions of dollars in recoveries.Call (888) 493-1629 now!
Plants & Refineries in Texas
The following are some of the plants throughout Texas, many of which have seen refinery accidents:
- Baytown Refinery (ExxonMobil), Baytown
- Big Spring Refinery (Delek), Big Spring
- Beaumont Refinery (ExxonMobil), Beaumont
- Borger Refinery (WRB Refining LP by Phillips 66/Cenovus), Borger
- Corpus Christi Complex (Flint Hills Resources), Corpus Christi
- Corpus Christi Refinery (Citgo), Corpus Christi
- Corpus Christi East & West Refinery (Valero), Corpus Christi
- Deer Park Refinery (Shell Oil Company), Deer Park
- El Paso Refinery (Western Refining), El Paso
- Galveston Bay Refinery (Marathon Petroleum Co), Texas City
- Houston Refinery (Lyondell), Houston
- Houston Refinery (Valero), Houston
- Independent Refinery (Stratnor), Houston
- McKee Refinery (Valero), Sunray
- Nixon Refinery (Blue Dolphin) Nixon
- Pasadena Refinery (Petrobras), Pasadena
- Port Arthur Refinery (Total), Port Arthur
- Port Arthur Refinery (Motiva Enterprises), Port Arthur
- Port Arthur Refinery (Valero), Port Arthur
- San Antonio Refinery (Calumet Lubricants), San Antonio
- Sweeny Refinery (Phillips 66), Sweeny
- Texas City Refinery (Valero), Texas City
- Three Rivers Refinery (Valero), Three Rivers
- Tyler Refinery (Delek), Tyler
The following companies also operate refineries in the state of Texas:
- Motiva Enterprises LLC, Port Arthur
- ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Co., Baytown
- Marathon Petroleum Corp., Galveston Bay
- ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Co., Beaumont
$30 Million for Victims of the William Olefins Explosion in Geismar
One June morning in 2013, Williams Olefins' plant in Geismar, LA exploded—killing 2 workers and injuring 167 more. After the fire was extinguished and the investigation could begin, workers came to Arnold & Itkin for help with their recovery. The company was keeping something from the workers, and they knew it was going to be a fight to get Williams Olefins to help them.
The explosion was caused by a reboiler with a dangerous flaw in its valve design: when the input valve was opened (but the output valve was closed), the reboiler tank had no access to its safety release valve. In other words, a simple mistake would immediately turn an enormous tank into a pressurized bomb. That's precisely what happened in June 2013. We immediately started building a case against the company—after all, in the vast majority of these cases, the companies know the risks they subject their workers to far beforehand.
However, what we found was even worse than we thought.
We learned that Williams Olefins knew the risk that specific valve design posed—they had even been warned about it years before the plant exploded. They had multiple opportunities to solve the major safety issue in the valve system. What's worst, the fix would have taken a few dollars and a few minutes to implement. Instead of listening to their experts and creating a fix, however, Williams Olefins let it stay. After all, fixing it might have slowed production down. Despite all this, the company refused to take their workers' claims seriously. Unlike most of our opponents, Williams allowed the case to go before a jury. Their plan was to play a "shell game" with the responsibility by limiting the liability to a child company. However, the jury saw right through it, assigning 98% of the blame to Williams and its parent company.
In our first trial, we secured $15.45 million for a group of 4 workers. Williams Olefins believed it was a fluke, and only a few weeks later, we won a second verdict for another 4 workers—this time for $18.5 million. The company was forced to acknowledge their workers' claims and the cause of the refinery accident at last.
Arnold & Itkin in the News
- Workers Injured in Chemical Plant Explosion Obtain $30 Million Verdicts In Two Louisiana State Court Trials
- CSB: 'Process safety management program deficiencies' lead to deadly 2013 explosion
- New Orleans Jury Awards $16M to 4 Workers for 2013 Plant Explosion
- ComDust victim awarded $39.7 million
- Houston jury awards $39.7 million verdict to a man injured in Corrigan plant explosion
- Williams Cos. Hit With $13.6M Verdict In La. Plant Explosion
The Science Behind Chemical Explosions
To explode, chemicals must be able to create a large amount of gas quickly. Often, the chemical acts as an explosive fuel when it contacts oxygen. Chemicals become dangerous when they produce gases quickly. Sometimes, chemicals create gases that are unlikely to result in an explosion. For example, a coal fire creates carbon dioxide and steam. This reaction is unlikely to cause an explosion because it creates gases slowly.
Chemical explosions are caused by three elements:
- Sudden generation of gas
- Dangerous reaction
In past explosions, poor maintenance resulted in gas leaks. When these leaks come in contact with heat sources and expand, they can explode. If a chemical is released into a hazardous area, it may react with a heat source and cause a serious accident.
Sometimes, plant owners negligently use impure chemicals. When impure chemicals are used, they produce large amounts of dangerous gases, increasing the chances of an explosion.
Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosions
Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions (BLEVEs) are dangerous and can easily cause fatalities, property damage, and catastrophic injuries. BLEVEs occur when a liquid stored in a sealed container begins to boil. When a liquid substance is heated, it eventually turns into a gas, which takes up more space than liquids. If the boiling liquid is in a sealed container, the gas will expand and create pressure inside the container. If there is enough space in the container, it will not explode. However, the container will explode if the gas expands beyond the capacity of the container.
The boiling temperature of a liquid is completely dependent on pressure. Generally speaking, higher temperatures necessitate higher boiling temperatures. If you place a cup of water in a vacuum and begin to decrease the pressure, the cup will eventually boil at room temperature. Conversely, you could keep the water from boiling at normal temperature by increasing the pressure in the room. Generally speaking, BLEVE explosions occur when a liquid—such as CO2, oxygen, or industrial gases—are stored in a container above its normal pressure boiling temperature. If the pressure and the temperature cause the liquid to boil instantaneously, the reaction could result in a BLEVE.
WHAT CAUSES A BLEVE?
BLEVEs are usually caused by some type of external heat source, such as a fire. When pressurized containers contact an external heat source, the substance inside may expand. Although many tanks are built to hold an immense amount of pressure, they are not indefinitely able to withstand it. Although many explosions involve flammable liquids, non-flammable substances may build up enough pressure to cause a BLEVE explosion.
Top-Rated Plant & Refinery Fire Attorneys
Plants and oil refineries are job sites where disasters of massive proportions are most likely to occur.
This is due to the inherent dangers of working with certain chemicals and compounds. When refinery accidents happen, they usually aren't small. In fact, they can claim the lives of countless individuals and innocent people can be injured on the job. These types of fires not only result in extensive property damage, but they can cause serious injury. For example, a victim in a fire could suffer from a burn injury ranging from minor to debilitating. Some burn injuries are so severe that limbs have to be amputated; in the most extreme scenarios, these injuries can be fatal.
Repercussions of refinery explosions can include the following:
The reason refinery explosions are so severe is the substances involved are often highly flammable. Take, for example, an oil refinery. For crude oil to be refined, it has to go through a process known as fractioning, which is achieved by heating up a tank to temperatures of up to 400 degrees Celsius so the oil can be divided into different parts. If these pipes or the fractioning chamber leaks, the oil could contact gases and heat that could cause an uncontrollable fire. The same can happen at a chemical plant. Chemicals are highly combustible materials, which means all the machinery at the plant has to be adequately contained for operations to run smoothly. One slight spill or leak could result in a massive flame.
Our Plant Explosion Firm Represents Workers Nationwide Including:
- Texas City
- Corpus Christi
- Port Arthur
- Baton Rouge
- Lake Charles
Common Injuries from Plant Explosions & Fires
The injuries that are sustained in the aftermath of plant and refinery explosions are immense—and often fatal. Many can be incurred from the physical blast itself; however, in some cases, the aftermath is just as deadly.
Some of the most common injuries sustained in explosions and fires include:
The heat that can be created by tragic plant explosions can spike into the thousands of degrees. Exposure to this kind heat—let alone the different chemical present in many plants and refineries—can be the cause of severe burns. Not only are these painful, but they can also result in long-lasting scarring and disfigurement, which is emotionally challenging and psychologically damaging.
This includes injuries to muscles, joints, and ligaments. This can be broken bones, skull fractures, damaged vertebrae, herniated/bulging discs, as well as sprains and strains. Most of these injuries are sustained in the initial blast.
Victims can suffer severe lacerations or cuts from debris falling or exploding. Regardless of whether it is a shallow gash or a deep wound, these can be painful and result in permanent scarring.
Beyond the heat, one of the most dangerous aspects of a plant explosion is the sheer noise. That alone can cause acoustic trauma to those anywhere near the explosion. The noise-induced hearing loss is a real problem, which can be caused by a one-time exposure that damages the hair cells and the auditory nerve. This may result in damage that is either temporary or permanent.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most often referred to in regards to soldiers returning from war, but it has long since been known that those who undergo a traumatic accident—such as an explosion—can experience it as well. This can leave victims to re-live the trauma over and over again, feeling numb to their surroundings, or be "hyper-alert."
When a plant explodes or begins to burn, it causes plumes of smoke to rise into the air and then settle into the low-lying areas surrounding the facility. Inhalation of this smoke is highly dangerous to victims. Not only can it cause immediate symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath, but it can cause long-term effects as well, such as damage to the small airways.
Primary Blast Injuries
There are four different types of injuries that can occur after a blast or explosion. The four categories are typically used to diagnose a soldier’s condition in military combat after he or she is at the scene of an explosion, but the categories apply in all blast injury situations. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, primary blast injuries happen due to the over-pressurization force of the explosion. The over-pressurization force is known as the blast wave, which is the extreme force that can cause injury during an explosion. When this wave impacts the body surface, it can do significant damage to the organs and parts of the body that are filled with gases.
Some common injuries from the over-pressurization are explained below:
- Lung Damage: Sometimes a blast wave can lead to a pulmonary contusion or an injury to the lung. This can lead to edema or blood collecting in the alveolar spaces, which is potentially fatal.
- Pulmonary Contusion: This condition is categorized as a blunt lung injury and develops over 24 hours. It will lead to increased pulmonary vascular resistance.
- Air Embolization: Some victims who suffer lung damage from a blast will suffer from an air embolism. This happens when there is a bubble in the bloodstream.
- Eye Injuries Blast injuries can often affect the eye. In some cases, the globe of the eye will rupture, leaving a victim in extreme pain or permanently blind.
- Abdominal / Hollow Viscus Injuries: Gas-filled structures within the body such as the stomach are susceptible to a primary blast injury. The organs in the abdominal area can rupture or internal lacerations can occur because of the force of the blast.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: In some cases, you may suffer a brain injury that is not related to a blunt force trauma accident. While most brain injuries happen when a person strikes their head, the over-pressurization at a blast site may also facilitate this injury.
Secondary, Tertiary & Quaternary Injuries
- Secondary Injuries - This category of explosion injuries involves those that result from flying debris and bomb fragments. Often, an explosion will damage buildings or structures and send heavy or sharp fragments throughout the air. These fragments or flying portions of a building can cause extreme harm to victims. Any part of the body can be affected by a secondary injury, but most often the injuries are blunt injuries or penetrating injuries. Sometimes, a blast can result in an eye penetration that can lead to permanent blindness. Sharp objects such as nails or pieces of metal may also cause deep lacerations or other more serious injuries. It may require surgery to remove the fragments.
- Tertiary Injuries - Victims of an explosion can also suffer from tertiary injuries. These are injuries that are suffered when the individual is thrown by the blast wind from the explosion. The force of the blast wind may cause people to topple backward and suffer a blunt force trauma injury to the head or fracture a wrist or leg as they tumble backward. According to the CDC, most of the time tertiary injuries are fractures and traumatic amputations. They can also be closed or open brain injuries.
- Quaternary Injuries - Finally, a person who is at the scene of an explosion may suffer from a quaternary injury. Most of the time, quaternary injuries are those that are exacerbations of existing conditions or complications. For example, if a person has a heart condition already, then an explosion may cause him or her to go into cardiac arrest. As well, those with asthma may have a terrible attack in the event of an explosion. Also, any injuries, illnesses, or diseases that are developed later after an explosion are typically considered quaternary injuries.
Understanding the Danger of Ammonia & Toxic Exposure
Sometimes, you may not realize the extent of the physical damage you suffered until after the explosion. Chemical plant explosions can result in internal damage and chemical burns. Per the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, you are exposed to chemicals every day. Not all chemical exposure is harmful; however, overexposure to certain types can lead to internal burns, cancer, and disfigurement. Chemical exposure can damage your respiratory, renal, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Depending on the amount of exposure, your nervous and immune system may suffer as well. After an explosion, it is imperative that you make sure that you have not suffered any damage from chemical exposure.
Burn Injuries Due to Plant Explosions
The lawyers at Arnold & Itkin know how explosion survivors often suffer severe burns thanks to the fuel and volatile chemicals located around chemical plants, oil refineries, and factories. We know how severe burns can run hospital bills into the six or seven-figure mark due to the need for high-cost specialists and around-the-clock care. We know how petrochemical companies won't help families, even if the company was responsible for the injuries.
Our burn attorneys even know how your insurance company will likely treat you if you try to get them to cover the expenses of treatment. We know because we've helped families walk through this exact situation before. Arnold & Itkin gave those families the resources and guidance they needed to hold wrongdoers accountable in court and get the funds they needed to afford treatment and put food on the table.
If your loved one suffered a burn injury in a plant explosion, you deserve to know what happens next. Call us so we can review your options and tell you what you need to know.
TYPES OF BURN INJURIES
Generally speaking, a burn is an injury caused by chemicals, electricity, heat, radiation, or sunlight that damages your body’s tissue.
There are several types of burn injuries:
- First-degree burns are mild and usually heal without medical attention. First degree burns are identifiable by redness, pain, and swelling. This type of burn only affects the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and can usually be treated from home. Unless a large portion of the victim’s body is covered by the burn, the injury should be treated as a minor burn by cooling the skin with a moist cloth or bandage and covering it with a sterile piece of gauze. Like any burn injury, never put ice on a first-degree burn or use a fluffy bandage to cover it.
- Second-degree burns can usually be treated as minor burns. If the victim experiences pain, an over-the-counter pain reliever may be taken. Like mild first-degree burn injuries, you may run cool (not cold) water over the burn and cover it with a sterile bandage.
- Unlike first and second degree burns, third- and fourth-degree burns are very serious and will not heal without the help of a medical professional. Third-degree burns are identifiable by charred and black regions of skin. If the victim has suffered a fourth-degree burn, his/her skin, muscle, fat, and bones may be affected by the injury. When treating major burns, avoid removing any of the victim’s clothes that are in contact with the injury. Never immerse a major burn in cold water. Instead, check for signs of breathing. Sometimes, major burn victims go into shock and require CPR. You may cover a major with a clean, moist bandage to protect it from infection.
Major burns are extremely serious and may result in permanent physical, emotional, and psychological scarring. Burn injuries are also notable for being the most costly cause of hospitalization nationwide. Weeks of hospitalization, around-the-clock care, and the need for expensive specialists can leave families in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars before healing has even begun.
Hearing Loss & Acoustic Trauma
Hearing loss is a common effect after an explosion—the severity of which depends on how close you were to the scene of the event. The loss of hearing that occurs because of an incident is often called “acoustic trauma,” which refers to your inner ear mechanism being harmed.
UNDERSTANDING EAR DAMAGE
In brief summary, the damages an explosion can have on your ear may vary.
- External ear damage can be caused by the debris of an explosion, rather than the overpressure of the blast. The Tympanic Membrane (TM) is the part of your ear that transmits pressure oscillations using different sound waves. When an explosion happens, your TM is affected and displaced because the pressure from the blast will actually enter your external auditory canal. Depending on the blast, the damage may be between minor hemorrhaging to complete membrane perforation.
- Your middle ear may also be damaged in the event of a larger blast; if there are lesions with the Cholesteatoma, it can harm not only your middle ear but also the temporal bone or skull base.
- Damage to your inner ear is less severe as you will likely start hearing again within hours or weeks.
SYMPTOMS OF ACOUSTIC TRAUMA
You may have been a recent bystander of an explosion in your area, whether you are an employee or a resident in a town—either case may result in severe hearing damages or loss.
Some of the symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Total deafness
- Continual ringing in one or both ears
- Difficulty hearing low-intensity sounds
- Muffled sounds
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Per the National Center for PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental disorder that occurs after a victim has endured a particularly traumatic event. In many cases, most people limit this disorder to veterans returning from the war, but the truth is that the victims of PTSD are much more varied than that. Someone who has suffered from sexual abuse, has lived through a terrorist attack, has been involved in a serious car accident, or has been through a natural disaster can all show signs of experiencing PTSD. One cause of PTSD is being involved in a plant explosion.
Because explosions are violent, traumatic events, they often leave survivors with lasting psychological injuries.
This can result in symptoms such as, but not limited to, the following:
- Re-experiencing the trauma at any moment;
- Feeling the need to avoid all reminders of the event;
- The feeling of numbness; or
- Being “hyperalert” or keyed up
IS POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER REAL? IS IT TREATABLE?
There has been a lot of debate over the years about whether or not PTSD can be classified as an actual injury sustained in an accident. The truth is that yes, it is just as real of an injury as physical impairment and can do just as much, if not more, damage. Similarly, it is possible to receive treatment. The main course of treatment is through psychotherapy along with the proper medication. By talking to a mental health professional, a victim can find the treatments they need to help get on the road to recovery. While there is no quick fix, there is a way for patients to find help. If you have experienced PTSD after being in a plant explosion, it is in your best interests to seek legal counsel from a plant explosion attorney. PTSD is a real injury that can result in not only serious emotional distress but fiscal strain as well. You deserve to be compensated for these damages.
Smoke is a combination of gases and heated particles, which are products of the materials being burned. When these materials are the machines and chemicals stored within an oil plant refinery, the smoke could be lethal. Breathing in the byproducts of an industrial fire can incapacitate a person, affecting their ability to breathe properly. In fact, studies suggest that the leading cause of death among fire victims is smoke inhalation, with anywhere from 50 to 80% of all fire-related deaths being the result of smoke inhalation.
THE DANGERS OF INHALING SMOKE
Escaping the disaster of a plant explosion or fire does not automatically ensure your health and safety. In fact, there are many serious injuries, illnesses, and instances of fatality that are reported hours, or even days, after the initial incident occurred. The victims of smoke inhalation are among those who are most at risk of developing later problems that might not have been immediately identified after the explosion.
Although symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath are identifiable, other symptoms are less easily noticeable. For example, burns on the cornea of an eye could be at first mistaken as minor eye irritation caused by the fire. In addition, an itchy nose or throat could be mistaken as minor symptoms of being around smoke, when in reality, they could be indicative of soot inhalation that causes swelling to nasal passageways.
As hours and days pass after a plant explosion, it is crucial that victims and their families pay attention to discreet warning signs that may appear. Although some symptoms such as headaches and nausea might seem normal, they could be indicative of a much more serious problem. Fires expose their victims to carbon monoxide, which is poisonous in large quantities. In addition, chemical asphyxiants and lower levels of oxygen can affect a person’s mental status.
Changes in skin color, fainting episodes, seizures, and coma can all result from the inhalation of harmful smoke.
Common Causes of Industrial Plant & Refinery Explosions
While these sorts of accidents are happening with seemingly more frequency, there is not one answer to what causes them. Depending on the type of plant, the causes of explosions vary. In some cases, it begins as a small flame, such as a cigarette, that quickly spreads out of control. In other cases, employers or employees were negligent in maintaining equipment and machinery.
Below, we explain the common causes of explosions:
1) Malfunctioning Equipment
One cause of explosions is a lack of maintenance, which can lead to serious malfunctions. Plants depend on the functioning of their equipment. If this equipment is not kept up to standards, it can result in catastrophic accidents. This could be anything from boilers, to pressure vessels, to alarms, to storage tanks. Equipment that has weakened or stopped working cannot do its job, and therefore cannot keep workers safe.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set guidelines for businesses to follow. When they failed to uphold these, they can be liable for any injury caused as a result. Machinery commonly seen at plants require intense scrutiny before operations commence. Even the slightest error can lead to an accident of incredible proportions. These types of accidents commonly cause death, not just injury.
Take, for example, the Williams Olefins plant explosion that occurred in Geismar, LA on June 13, 2013. All signs point to the explosion being caused by a "catastrophic failure" of the plant's heat exchanger. In another case, OSHA investigated Connecticut's Kleen Energy Systems plant after an explosion and found more than 400 safety violations. Both of these explosions show us that while some accidents are unavoidable, many could have been prevented through adequately maintaining and updating refinery equipment.
2) Poor Training of Refinery Employees
One cause of explosions is the inadequate training of employees.
Lack of training in operating machinery or using personal protective equipment is a violation of safety regulations. Employers are responsible for providing their employees with the necessary training to avoid accidents, as well as respond accurately should an accident occur. Due to the high risk associated with refinery jobs, it is imperative that all employees are put through a comprehensive training program. Employee training should include education on how to properly operate machinery, handle and store volatile chemicals, and avoid the risk of combustion.
Per the Industrial Skills Training Network, employees should be trained on:
- Safe work habits and safety guidelines
- Chemical safety hazards
- Basic emergency response training
- Preparing hazardous materials for transport
- Working safely with electrical equipment
- Properly reading warning signs and labels
3) Unseen Corrosion
Metal is continually being worn down during everyday processes of a plant or refinery. Unfortunately, due care is not always taken to ensure metal has not weakened and is still performing at its peak. When metal goes unchecked, it can begin to wear down and corrode. In some cases, the surrounding environment can even begin oxidation. Over time, metal is gradually worn down as it reacts to the surrounding environment.
While this is a typical reaction, it can become deadly if it is not noticed and fixed. In some cases, corrosion can be seen by discoloration, but that is not always the case. In fact, unseen corrosion can be so subtle that even highly trained inspectors may miss it—or it may be hidden in a part of a machine that is not easily accessible. When corrosion goes unseen, it will gradually worsen, causing the machine to become increasingly dangerous to use. If the corrosion goes unseen long enough, it can eventually lead to a deadly explosion or a fire.
4) Dirty & Impure Chemicals
The mixture of chemicals is central to most plant operations. To ensure the safety of all employees, there are strict regulations regarding what type and quality of chemicals can be used. When impure or dirty chemicals are used, it can lead to unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
5) Poor Facility Maintenance & Unsafe Working Conditions
Unsafe working conditions are often the cause of many accidents—which means that they could have been avoided. Take, for example, the Texas City refinery explosion. This was one of the worst refinery accidents the U.S. has ever seen, and it was caused by failure to abide by safety regulations. This incident was a record-topping event for safety violations as well as violations for failure to make improvements after the disaster.
One of the most important steps employers can take to protect workers is to maintain their facilities properly. Due to the hazardous material and dangerous equipment on location, accidents are bound to happen if proper maintenance is ignored. Due to the countless refinery explosions over the years, facility maintenance has become a subject of high interest, which has led to the implementation of various federal laws.
Federal law now requires employers to provide employees with proper tools and equipment, as well as training in how to inspect equipment and recognize the need for maintenance.
If a refinery is not correctly inspected or cleaned, it is not safe. A disorganized facility can cause malfunctioning equipment, dangerous work environments, chemical reactions, and even leaks or spills, which can lead to catastrophic accidents.
6) Failure to Follow OSHA Guidelines
To regulate industrial workplaces, OSHA has put into place strict regulations that are used to enhance worker safety. Unfortunately, these are not always adhered to. When violations are made, either through intentional or negligent actions, the employees are the ones who suffer. If an employer does not comply with OSHA operating standards, they are not only endangering themselves and their workers but also those who live near the refinery. OSHA standards are created to ensure that the workplace is kept free from hazards and that every possible safeguard is put in place to avoid an accident. When these are knowingly or neglectfully ignored, it can lead to serious refinery explosions and fires.
Some guidelines that should always be complied with:
- Inspecting, testing, and performing preventative maintenance
- Completing a process safety information (PSI) about potential hazards
Aging Plant Equipment Claims
In addition to the above, one of the most common causes of an explosion is the use of aging equipment. Most plants and refineries have not been renovated since the 1920s or 1930s. Better materials can be used to construct the plant’s equipment, but this would require stopping production for construction, which would drastically halt profit. Rather than stopping to install new equipment, plant owners and manager keep production running, which slowly takes a heavy toll on the equipment and ultimately results in dangerous malfunction. In addition to the old equipment, managers and owners of these plants still use old processes that have been proven hazardous.
More production is being demanded of the same equipment that has been used since the 1920s and 1930s. As our populations get bigger and cities expand, so do does production out of our refineries and plants. This increased demand forces the equipment to work harder than it should, often causing the conditions that make explosions possible. Pressurization, corrosion, and fire hazards make leaks and ignition more likely.
According to Kurt Arnold, founding attorney of Arnold & Itkin, many plants have not been updated for half a century, leaving ancient technology still in place. While employers may view this as a shortcut, it endangers workers.
Use of Old, Outdated Equipment in Plants & Refineries
This is not a problem limited to the U.S. In fact, in 2013, former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, slammed the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant for its use of "sub-standard material." According to his criticism, the inferior materials being used at the plant created serious problems and raised alarming safety concerns. In the United States and globally, there is growing alarm about the risks of using aging equipment in plants and refineries of all kinds—particularly plants handling potentially harmful materials.
According to Kurt, that is just not acceptable:
"Most plants have not been updated in 50 or 60 years, and most of the equipment that is used is really old equipment. It's old technology. It's things that worked when we otherwise didn't have new technology available, but for whatever reason most companies have decided not to upgrade their plants and not to build new plants."
The Consequences of Ignoring Aging Equipment
The Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and injured nearly 200 in March 2005 was caused by old equipment that failed. According to the reports following the tragedy, the explosion occurred in an isomerization unit where a raffinate splitter had been overfilled with overheated liquid. In the end, there were several causes of the incident, but one that stood out was the failing of equipment which was used in the plant.
Earlier in the year of the explosion, Telos had reviewed that plant and found several alarming defects:
- Broken alarms
- Thinning pipe
- Falling concrete
- Excessive fumes
In 2013, a Chevron refinery in California’s Bay Area exploded, spreading crude oil and dangerous fumes into the air. The refinery is the third largest in California, and among the oldest as well; in fact, it has been operating for over a century. It should come as no surprise that the plant is riddled with parts that need replacing, and it frequently suffers from fires and explosions (one of which occurred less than a year before this one).
This particular explosion was caused by a failed pipe that was over 30 years old. It was first installed in the 1970s and was never replaced. A similar issue caused a fire in 2012 at the same plant. That is the issue with problems caused by aging equipment—when a plant is not frequently updated or renovated (to save costs, to limit production interruption, etc.), it is far too easy for catastrophic failure to occur on a frequent basis.
The BP Texas City Explosion
On March 23, 2005, Texas City was rocked when the BP refinery exploded, killing 15 workers and injuring more than 170 others. At the time of the incident, the refinery was the second largest oil refinery in the Lone Star State and the third largest in the entire nation. The explosion became the center of a national controversy due to the numerous failings which came to the national stage during subsequent investigations.
These failures included the following:
- Cost-cutting that led to safety hazards;
- Failure to properly invest in safe infrastructure;
- Poor corporate oversight;
- Lack of focus on safety;
- Improper training of employees and operators;
- Flawed communication; and
- Use of outdated equipment.
Since the explosion, BP has been faced with criminal charges, as well as several civil lawsuits brought forward by the families of those who were killed in the accident. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) even slapped BP with a record-breaking fine and later hit them with an even larger one because, despite the devastating events of March 23, BP had still failed to implement better policies & procedures.
At Arnold & Itkin LLP, we worked with several of the workers who were injured at that refinery and sought to help them recover just financial compensation. By working on that case, we saw first-hand what happened when corporations place an emphasis on profit instead of employee safety: disaster. We consider it our duty to help the victims of such accidents.
History of Plant Explosions in the U.S.
As stated above, this is not the first time that a plant or refinery has exploded in the United States, and, unfortunately, it will most likely not be the last. There are countless causes of these types of explosions—many of which can be attributed to human behavior.
Some of the largest plant explosions and accident that have happened include:
- January 2003: On January 29, 2003, the West Pharmaceutical Plant in Kinston, North Carolina exploded—resulting in the death of 6 people and 36others. Subsequent investigations determined that most likely the cause of the incident was a large rubber dust explosion. The plant was highly criticized in following reports for inadequate safety policies, procedures, and communication.
- March 2005: On March 23, 2005, a massive explosion occurred at BP's refinery in Texas City, TX. The blow-out was believed to have been caused by hydrocarbon vapors contacting the ignition source, which some believe was a running work truck. The explosion resulted in more than 15 people losing their lives and caused injuries to more than 170 other individuals.
- November 2012: On November 6, 2012, an AmeriGas plant suffered from a propane explosion in Montgomery County, just east of Conroe, Texas. Reports stated that the primary cause of the incident was someone stepping on the line while propane tanks were being filled, which caused a kink. The incident resulted in at least two employees suffering severe burn injuries.
- February 2013: On February 9, 2013, an Air Liquide cylinder plant exploded in La Porte, Texas. It is believed that the explosion was triggered during the course of chemicals being mixed, which was the primary function of the plant. Around 20 employees were assigned to that facility; however, it was originally unclear how many were present. Later reports stated one was killed and one was injured.
- March 2013: There were two separate explosions that occurred in March of 2013. On March 4, an Akzo Nobel polymer chemical plant in Deer Park, TX went up in flames after spontaneous combustion—resulting in at least one worker suffering serious injuries. Then, on March 7, the American Steel Foundries plant in Granite City, Illinois exploded, which was caused by gas catching on fire near a grinding machine. 10 people were taken to hospitals for treatment.
- April 2013: On April 17, 2013, tragedy struck West, TX—a small city just north of Waco, TX with a population of only 2,800. The West Fertilizer Co. plant exploded, causing injuries to more than 100 people and leaving an undetermined amount of people dead and missing. The explosion also left a four-block radius around the plant completely destroyed, with 50-75 houses demolished.
- June 2013: On June 13, 2013, the Williams Olefins plant in Geismar, LA exploded and killed 2 while injuring 167 more. Our firm represented dozens of workers from the Geismar plant explosion, fighting to get them the money they needed to get medical treatment and provide for their families. Our efforts eventually secured them more than $30 million in two dramatic verdicts, followed by confidential settlements. Our team also proved in court that Williams Olefins' upper management ignored a known design flaw that put hundreds of workers at risk.
The July 2021 Chemical Release at the LyondellBasell La Porte Facility
On July 27, 2021 a pipe burst at the LyondellBasell plant near La Porte, Texas. The incident sent acetic acid vapor into the air, taking the lives of 2 workers and injuring 30 more. Acetic acid is a highly corrosive substance and can cause burns and respiratory injuries. Releasing about 100,000 pounds of chemical mixture, the incident was initially labeled an explosion as responders scrambled to help the injured.
The LyondellBasell facility in La Porte wasn't the only plant owned by the company to have a chemical leak. Weeks before the La Porte incident, the company’s Galena Park facility—just 15 miles away—had a leak that released a garlic-like scent over nearby areas. While officials said it didn’t pose a threat, residents reported encountering the odor and feeling nauseated and experiencing headaches.
The Westlake Chemical Plant Explosion Near Sulphur, Louisiana
At least 5 people were injured by an explosion at Westlake Chemical’s Petro Complex 2 Unit on September 27, 2021. The plant, which was undergoing maintenance when the explosion occurred, is used to produce ethylene, the process of which requires extreme heat. While the cause of the incident is still under investigation, at least one of the employees sustained severe injuries from burns over half their body. The explosion was felt and heard throughout the areas surrounding Sulphur, including reports from Lake Charles, Hammond, and Lafayette.
Wrongful Death from Refinery Explosions
In 2018, more people will die from workplace accidents than from armed conflicts worldwide.
The vast majority of these deaths will not only be preventable, but they'll be the result of companies knowingly putting their workers in dangers to maintain or increase production. The death of a loved one in a plant accident or refinery explosion not only means the loss of a spouse, parent, or child—for many families, it results in the loss of the sole income supporting the household. Our wrongful death attorneys help families recover by getting them the money they need to keep moving forward—money for groceries, the mortgage, and school tuition. We also help families force companies to reckon with the harm they caused through their policies, leading to emotional closure and a safer workplace for future employees.
Plant Explosion FAQ
Why are plant explosions so serious?
Plant explosions can cause worker injury and death, not to mention significant and widespread damage to the plant itself and surrounding structures and even neighborhoods. These incidents are disastrous because they involve heat, chemical reactions, and the explosion itself. Workers may be injured in the initial blast, thrown with such force that they suffer broken bones, spinal cord injuries, and head trauma. Others may experience severe burns and respiratory problems caused by inhaling smoke and airborne substances. Every worker may be at risk.
I was injured from a plant explosion near my home. Do I have a lawsuit?
Even if you were not a worker at the plant or refinery, you could still have grounds for a claim if you were injured or your property was damaged. Plant explosions can cause widespread damage due to the force of the explosion itself. Nearby properties may have windows blown out. Flying debris can damage walls and roofs. If hazardous chemicals are released into the air, everyone in the region could be at risk. Anyone who was harmed should be entitled to compensation for what they’ve experienced.
Who can be held accountable?
When a plant explosion occurs, everyone is looking for answers. The media, the government, and of course the injured workers themselves. Why did it occur? Who is responsible? In our experience, accountability for plant explosions typically lies with the owner of the plant or the manufacturer of defective equipment. Each case is different, however, and must be carefully investigated and analyzed to determine liability. At Arnold & Itkin, our experience with plant explosion cases is unmatched. We have the resources and drive to seek justice for innocent workers and others who have been injured in these preventable catastrophes.
WHAT TYPES OF INJURIES ARE EXPERIENCED IN PLANT EXPLOSIONS?
Plant explosions cause many different types of injuries, many of which are catastrophic. The blast itself may be the source of significant trauma, including broken bones, hearing damage, brain trauma, and crush injuries. Fire is another source of serious trauma, causing severe burns that can lead to disfigurement, scarring, and even the need for surgical amputation of affected limbs and extremities. Some workers are injured in the rush of people trying to flee an explosion, literally trampled in the turmoil. In addition to these physical injuries, workers are at risk of suffering from lasting emotional trauma due to the catastrophic nature of these explosions.
AFTER A PLANT EXPLOSION, DO I HAVE TO USE THE COMPANY DOCTOR?
If you were injured in a plant explosion, your employer may have a doctor or medical facility they’d like for you to visit. It’s important to know that you are not legally required to use the company doctor. You can request to see a different doctor if you prefer. You should also be wary of returning to work before you feel you’re fully healed. Your employer may pressure you to return, but you should only start working again if your doctor says it’s alright. Protect your health above all else.
WHAT MEDICAL TREATMENT IS COVERED BY A PLANT EXPLOSION INJURY CLAIM?
A full and fair settlement for a plant explosion injury claim should cover every single expense associated with your medical treatment. This includes hospitalization and emergency treatment right after the explosion. It also includes ongoing care, whether this is in the hospital or at a different facility. It also includes medication, medical supplies, travel expenses to and from appointments, physical therapy, assistive devices, in-home modifications (if needed), and any other cost related to your injuries. You should also be entitled to damages for lost income, future loss of income, and emotional trauma. An attorney who has experience with plant explosion cases can review yours to determine its worth and how to proceed.
Helping the Victims of Plant Explosion Protect Their Rights
At our firm, we recognize that there is likely a lot of confusion regarding the process that you are facing. We want you to know that we are here to help you through it. Our plant explosion lawyers have a history of representing the victims of explosions; we were involved with cases that involved the 2005 plant explosion at the BP Amoco petrochemical plant in Texas City, as well as the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.
Click on any of the following links to learn more about:
- Chemical Plant Safety
- Living Near an Industrial Plant
- Plant Explosion Liability
- Plant Explosion Property Damage
- Causes of Explosions
- Plant Explosion FAQ
Talk to a Plant Explosion Lawyer as Soon as Possible: (888) 493-1629
At Arnold & Itkin, we are no strangers to helping the victims of plant accidents. We have seen firsthand the devastation they cause and have been involved in cases involving these catastrophic incidents before. Our legal team helped represent those injured in the 2005 BP Texas City explosion, as well as dozens of workers hurt by the 2013 chemical plant explosion in Geismar, LA. We know just how difficult it can be in the aftermath of such a tragedy, and we are dedicated to doing everything possible so that our clients can compensation to cover medical treatment, lost wages, and more. We fight for justice.
If you or a loved one has been injured, you may be entitled to compensation for any losses you suffered. It is essential to know where you stand. By talking to our plant explosion lawyers, you could receive experienced legal counsel and find out whether you have a case. We are passionate about getting innocent victims the compensation they rightfully deserve. Although we are located in Houston, TX, we represent clients nationwide, securing billions and achieving record-setting verdicts and settlements.
We know how difficult this time is. That's why our team is here to help you get answers and find justice. Contact us today for your free, confidential consultation.