Why didn't TCEQ intervene after months of excessive butadiene at the TPC Group plant?
After discovering that the TPC Group plant in Port Neches had been improperly dealing with pollutants, including cancer-causing 1,3-butadiene, for almost three years, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017 required the plant to start monitoring levels and posting reports online whenever they spiked.
Even though those reports were "tucked away on a page that makes no mention of the EPA settlement and doesn’t explain" what they were, the Texas Tribune's Kiah Collier reports, they show a "significant increase in both the size of butadiene emissions and the number of times the company exceeded" the EPA threshold — including one day in August 2019 with 20 separate exceedances.
Overall, from March 2018 through October 2019, the reports show that "butadiene levels surpassed the threshold an average of 4.5 days per month, with an average of eight exceedances per day." Collier writes, "EPA — or TCEQ, which is primarily responsible for enforcing federal clean air laws in Texas — should have seen the trend as a red flag and followed up."
And, just one month later, a series of explosions at the plant the day before Thanksgiving created elevated levels of butadiene that led to mandatory evacuations, school closures and shelter-in-place orders. At the time, the director of health, safety and security with TPC Group said, “You don’t want to be downwind from this.”
TPC's "track record suggests that they were at risk of some kind of incident occurring,” Elena Craft, senior director for climate and health with the Environmental Defense Fund, says. TCEQ "should have taken action preemptively and they didn't."
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