Harris County files second lawsuit in six months against ExxonMobil over Baytown plant fire

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Harris County is suing ExxonMobile over pollution caused by a July 31 chemical fire that injured more than 30 people at the Olefins Plant in Baytown, according to a press release from County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office.

Ryan’s suit alleges that Exxon violated the Texas Clean Air Act and the Texas Health and Safety Code by releasing “tons of pollutants” into the atmosphere, creating a threat to public health and safety, according to the release.

“Exxon, like any other polluter, must be held accountable for yesterday’s fire and its consequences.” Ryan said in the release.

The fire, which occurred at the Baytown Complex off Hwy. 146 at Spur 330, resulted in the emission of propylene, liquefied petroleum gas, propane and products associated with their combustion, according to the release. ExxonMobil’s website states that the Baytown Olefins plant began operations in 1979 and is one of the largest ethylene plants in the world.

The lawsuit comes less than six months after the county last sued ExxonMobil when an explosion and fire occurred at the Baytown Refinery in March.

As the July 31 incident developed late morning into early afternoon, Harris County Pollution Control Services investigated the violation and provided air-monitoring data to the public. The City of Baytown issued a shelter-in-place for residents who live west of the plant and south of Spur 330 as a precaution. It was lifted just after 3 p.m. on July 31.

In its original petition, the county asks the court to issue temporary and permanent injunctions ordering Exxon to appoint an independent third party to study the incident and make recommendations to the court. This would allow the court to issue orders requiring Exxon to take preventative measures and prevent future incidents, per the release. The county also seeks to recover its court expenses and attorney’s fees.

“This is not the first time my office has been required to focus the county’s scarce resources on this company’s air pollution,” Ryan said in the release.

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