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Investigation launched after acid leak

TEXAS CITY — An investigation is under way to determine what caused a storage tank to leak hydrochloric acid that created a vapor cloud and prompted a 5½-hour shelter-in-place order for Texas City on Wednesday night. The leak sent at least 10 people to the hospital, including four Texas City firefighters who were exposed to the corrosive chemical compound.

The leak happened at the Dallas Group’s facility at the Port of Texas City about 11 p.m. Wednesday.

At first, emergency officials were monitoring the leak, but when the acid formed a vapor cloud that drifted northward over the city, Homeland Security Director Bruce Clawson ordered a shelter in place about 11:30 p.m. Clawson issued two shelter in place automated calls to residents.

One call informed residents there was an incident at the docks, and the second a few minutes later confirmed that there was a hydrochloric acid leak.

The city did not issue an evacuation order. The Daily News was unable to confirm if any of the other facilities that operate within the Port of Texas City issued evacuation orders for employees.

During the shelter-in-place order, anyone in the city was asked to remain indoors, turn off their air conditioning units and make sure all windows and doors were closed.

Police closed off the roads that lead to the city’s industrial sector along Loop 197 between Texas Avenue and FM 519, as well 14th Street.

A command post was set up at FM 517 near state Highway 146.

Hydrochloric acid can irritate the skin and cause chemical burns ranging from mild to severe, depending on the concentration of the hydrochloric acid solution. Concentrated vapor or solution might cause the victim to experience pain, redness of the skin and blisters.

Even with short-term exposure, it can irritate the eyes and cause burning, swelling, tearing of the eyes and blurred vision.

Symptoms of hydrochloric acid inhalation include coughing, choking and burning of the throat.

Ten people were taken to Mainland Medical Center for treatment for exposure, hospital spokeswoman Paula Cashion confirmed. Four were firefighters, and the rest were Dallas Group workers or contractors.

Dallas Group spokeswoman Diane Tracy said only one of the company’s employees was among those taken to the hospital.

All were treated and released.

There were also unconfirmed reports that as many as seven residents from neighborhoods near the leak site were taken to the hospital after complaining of symptoms from exposure, but Cashion said only one other person came to the hospital through the emergency room.

By 1:15 a.m., Clawson said the situation was “stable,” and by 3 a.m. Thursday, crews were able to confirm that the leak was under control and that there were no leaks at nearby tanks.

By 4 a.m., the city could have issued an all-clear notice, but Clawson did not want to wake people with another phone call. He waited to make the all-clear official at 5 a.m. Thursday.

The cause of the leak or how much acid was released was unknown. Tracy did not respond to Daily News questions about what might have caused the leak other than to say it was under investigation.

Clawson shot down rumors, started by erroneous reports on social media sites, that a railcar explosion preceded the leak.

The Dallas Group produces a number of adsorbent synthetic magnesium silicate products that mainly are used in the food industry.

It employs 13 people at its Texas City facility, which is located within the Port of Texas City.

It is expected that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will conduct investigations.

By : TJ Aulds


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