In the last two years, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has launched investigations into seven separate chemical accidents or explosions in the Houston area. Prior to 2018, the CSB only conducted roughly one investigation per year. Investigators believe that the massive increase in accidents which require an investigation by the CSB is due to a variety of factors such as the large number of chemical companies in the Houston area, the age of the infrastructure, and companies being allowed to self-regulate. Many of these explosions and fires have directly led to the deaths of workers, bystanders, millions of dollars in property damage, and the evacuation of tens of thousands of local residents who risk being exposed to toxic chemicals. The sheer number of chemical accidents even surprises veteran attorneys who have experience representing plaintiffs in these accidents. “We see two or three in a year, or one major event – but in the past two years or so, there have been so many fires and explosions”, said Benny Agosto Jr., who recently spoke with Bloomberg Environment on the frequency of these accidents.
These chemical accidents have led to increased scrutiny at the Federal level, however the local government is taking a role as well under the leadership of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. District Attorney Ogg’s office has brought criminal charges against executives at Arkema Inc., which suffered explosions and fires at their plant in Crosby, Texas and against Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) for the fire that raged at ITC’s tank farm in Deer Park, Texas. However, at this time it is difficult to determine if this increased scrutiny will lead to a reduction in chemical accidents.