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Isobutylene ignites, causes explosion at Texas glycol plant FIPHARM(GROUP)CO.,LIMITED | 2019-04-30 16:03:23 | Reading:3191 A fire and explosion rocked a chemical processing facility northeast of Houston on Tuesday, a little more than two weeks after another fire at a tank farm alongside the Houston Ship Channel sent a massive plume of black smoke over the nation's fourth-largest city for days. 

One person died at KMCO LLC's site and two more were flown via helicopter to hospitals on Tuesday after a transfer line ignited in the area of a tank containing isobutylene, a flammable liquid gas, that caught fire, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. An adjacent warehouse containing dry chemicals also caught fire, he said. 
Neither Gonzalez nor other law enforcement and emergency management officials knew what the dry chemicals in the burning warehouse were when they spoke to reporters early Tuesday afternoon other than identifying them as "dry combustibles." Officials said they were awaiting a list of those chemicals from KMCO LLC. 

Isobutylene is a colorless liquefied flammable gas used to manufacture methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), fuel additives and a type of rubber, among other products. 

A huge smoke plume emerging from the KMCO fire could be seen for miles and was reminiscent of the March 17 fire at a naphtha tank at Intercontinental Terminals Co.'s tank farm that ultimately reached 11 tanks. 

The ITC fire prompted shelter-in-place orders in multiple cities and snarled Houston Ship Channel traffic for days when a dike collapse leaked benzene-rich pyrolysis gas into the waterway. 

The ITC fire was extinguished March 20, then briefly re-ignited on March 22. It caused no serious injuries. 

The KMCO fire also prompted shelter-in-place orders at three nearby school districts for several hours. 

Officials said crews brought foam tanks from the ITC fire site to KMCO to help quell its flames on Tuesday. 

Efforts to reach the company directly were unsuccessful on Tuesday as calls were directed back to its automated answering system. 

KMCO produces various glycol products, including monoethylene glycol (MEG), diethethylene glycol (DEG) and triethylene glycol (TEG). MEG is a feedstock for polyester resins and fibers as well as antifreeze, coolants and aircraft de-icers. DEG is used to make polyester resins, polyurethanes and plasticizers, and TEG is used as a plasticizer for vinyl polymers. 

KMCO also makes antifreeze and coolants, brake fluids, additives used in oil and gas production. In addition, the company is a toll processor, which involves making chemicals to customer specifications, according to its website. 

The plant in Crosby, Texas, is about a mile away from French chemical manufacturer Arkema's plant that severely flooded during Hurricane Harvey's assault in 2017, which took out electricity and allowed volatile organic peroxides to warm up and ignite. Arkema's site remains shut down. 

The KMCO fire and explosion were under investigation, authorities said.


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