Chemical Plant Fire Injures 4

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 @ 05:10 PM gHale

Three of the four people injured in a Friday fire and explosion at the SunEdison plant in Pasadena, TX, ended up released from area hospitals, company officials said.

Company Spokesman Gordon Handelsman said the company was gathering information about the fourth person injured in the 7:50 a.m. blaze. He also said the company is still unsure of what cause the incident.

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The plant produces raw materials for silicon wafers used in semiconductors and solar panels. SunEdison, formerly MEMC Electronic Materials, acquired the facility from Albemarle Corp. in 1995. Capt. Dean Hensley of the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said the incident involved a chemical leak and identified the chemical as silane.

Silane is a highly flammable, reactive chemical used to produce silicon materials in the semiconductor industry. When it contacts air, it can spontaneously ignite in a reaction that produces sand and water.

In documents filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SunEdison cited two possible dangerous scenarios involving silane. In the worst case, all 75,000 pounds of the largest storage vessel of liquid silane would flash to gas and ignite within 10 minutes. But company considered that scenario highly unlikely because the tank is underground.

A second possibility, the risk management plan said, was a release of 6,000 pounds from a bulk shipping container during transport.

“This is a more realistic scenario because this is the only time this material is handled outside of closed processing systems,” the plan said. “There would be minimal environmental impact and no damage to the community.”

The Sun Edison plant has a history of gas leaks, fires and other incidents. State and federal regulators have cited and fined the company since 2008.

In April 24, 2008, the Pasadena plant had a gas leak of silicon tetrafluoride, sending 15 employees to the hospital in the process.

Later that year, the plant had a fire which shut down production at the plant for a week. The company ended up sued by investors for not immediately disclosing the fire but won the lawsuit in federal court.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) handed out five serious safety violations and fined them $35,000 related to highly hazardous chemicals in April 2011.

Texas Commission of Environmental Quality fined the company $11,401 on Aug. 26, 2014 for violations of the Clean Air Act.

The Texas Department of State Health Services cited the company twice in Oct. 30, 2014 after two workers suffered exposure to high levels of radiation while cleaning a tank.