Tuesday, February 19, 2013

# 405 - Explosion Brings Our Community Sadness

One of the topics I've discussed numerous times in this blog is my desire to get away from this heavily industrialized area. That being said, I know there will always be a market for nice homes in our area that is heavy-laden with chemical industry because people like to be close to their jobs.

In my family and in my husband's family, we have direct ties to family members working in refineries and chemical plants. Heck, my bread and butter growing up came from a father who worked in a refinery. The house I grew up in was so close to refineries and chemical plants that we'd feel the ground shake during any explosions and our neighbor's windows would blow out from the blast.

Even so, I respect the industry. I admire it. I sometimes look at the lights of the chemical plants at night and am in awe at our country's industrial know-how. And, I find it amusing and ironic that those who viciously vilify such industry are doing so while enjoying products made in these refineries, products such as cell phones, computers, televisions, radios, vehicles, home building supplies, and other items that are part of their daily world.

However, does this locality sometimes stink? Yes, it does, literally. Some days are worse than others. And if someone doesn't like it, they need to avoid the area or move away. Just a little bit of distance can bring about big changes. Hence my desire to move farther away from this industrial production zone, but I still respect the area being dedicated, mostly, to creating ingredients necessary for many of our daily products.

I admit that I don't relish living in this location, but I also realize, with appreciation, that this area is vital to much of America's daily life.

So, I can appreciate the honesty that comes with talking with neighbors about a particularly bad release that has left our air heavy with a foul smell, but I find it a bit unnerving to hear someone spout off ignorant and hateful messages about this industry as they are using products in their daily life that come from these operations. It'd be interesting for an expert to go through one of those people's residences and take away everything they are using that comes from ingredients created by one of these "evil" corporations so they could see the truth of their situation.

The jobs that most of my neighbors go to every day entails a level of danger that is palpable. We go about our daily lives while knowing the realities of being alert and ready to "Shelter in Place" at any given moment. Our schools teach local children about how to properly "Shelter in Place" and we have local AM radio stations dedicated to alerts along with siren systems that will sound in an emergency situation.

One person killed, another hospitalized following explosion in La Porte
KHOU TV online photograph from February 9th, 2013 explosion.

Literally, we live a hop, skip and a jump from industrial businesses, and on Saturday morning, February 9th, there was a dreaded event, an explosion. Footage of the site is available below.

People around here make good money working in these plants and refineries. Living in these towns means you KNOW the risks. Even our neighborhood parks have beautiful signs about "Welcome to Our Park" along with listed details on how to take proper action upon hearing sirens for a "Shelter in Place." It's our reality.

I have a mixed love affair with this area. There are wonderful reasons for living here, such as the convenience of enjoying multiple wonderful benefits of Greater Houston. However, I am ready to enjoy living on our acreage because it is close enough to Houston to allow us to enjoy the best of the metropolitan area while being far enough away to avoid the yuckiness of a big city.

It's complicated because I love the people in our area; I love the work ethic; I love the recreational side of our populace; I love the way our neighbors are BOUND together by a common working industrial knowledge that extends to our private residences; I love that our communities rise to the challenge of understanding "prepping" and "survival" on a level that is often real-world tested because we don't have the luxury of taking an ostrich-stance; and I love our admitting that the foul smell in the air due to a chemical release is indicative of an odor that signifies helping our country live BETTER.

Down here, in this part of Texas, we residents wish that a magic filter could erase all odors and air contaminates that come from industrialized processes, but there isn't anything quite like that, not yet. 

I guarantee the inventor of that gigantic HEPA filter will be a KAGILLIONAIRE.

Areas such as ours, throughout America, take a hit so that others may enjoy products that are available because of this industry. It would be awesome to be able to make a huge difference in our society without it costing something, but that's the rule in life, overall. If you make a dent to create more space on one side of a wall, the other side will show an opposite impact with less room because of the inward protrusion. I guess this is the reason that some people question progress...Do we really make progress?

Sometimes, we become painfully aware of the high price of business. I am deeply saddened when I hear that an area resident has sacrificed to provide our country with things that we use every day. Today, I used my laundry detergent and wiped down my kitchen countertops with the knowledge that these tangible items were created with chemicals used from local industries. This particular plant that suffered the recent explosion is the location for a mix of industrial gases such as nitrogen and hydrogen that are used in the processing of such things as food and beverages and electronics, things that all of us use, daily.

So, two Saturdays ago, I laid in bed and heard two loud booms. Later in the day, it bothered me, tremendously, that I second-guessed my own hearing that morning, talking myself out of believing the sounds had been actual plant explosions. Those were the sounds of someone being killed and another critically injured. I even had a moment of wondering if one of the frequent flying small crafts around our area had crashed nearby. Initially, I had an impulse to look at the window for a plume of smoke, but I decided against it. Those plumes of smoke can be disheartening to your core.

That morning, my husband and I continued on with our day, still without knowing there had been an explosion nearby. My husband never heard anything. He was probably in the shower at the time of the blasts. Our local sirens did not sound, which is ridiculous. Most often, city officials don't sound the warning system unless the wind is going your direction, even if you are physically closer to the accident site than the area under warning. You hear the "Shelter in Place" sirens because winds are taking hazardous gases or chemicals into your neighborhood.

So, we left the house via one side of the neighborhood that had no view of the drama unfolding and no indication of the serious situation underhand. However, it didn't take long before I received a text message from my uncle who was very worried about the news report of the explosion...he lives quite a distance away and he knew about it before we did. He's retired from Shell, which is a few blocks away, and he knows a thing or two about the dangers of our surrounding plants.

At any rate, we ate an early lunch, ran a few errands, then made our return home via the backside of the neighborhood and this is when we confronted the blockade. It turns out that the laboratory that exploded was housed in a nearby Air Liquide building. In our industry, chemistry is not a profession for the cowardly.

My photo of our drive home --- the plant is to the right, actually within
viewing distance from some second-story homes and businesses
in the area. Still, we did not have the "Shelter in Place" sirens go off.
Sadly, we faced ongoing drama unfolding at the backside of our neighborhood as we tried to return home. We found that we were fortunate to be able to turn into our neighborhood from this direction because the rest of the road was completely blocked by First Responders who were trying to deal with the explosion and to search through the wreckage for the worst kind of discovery.

With one death and one badly injured worker who suffered burns to over 75% of his body, it's been a sad time for area communities.

But, the work will continue because our society depends on these businesses.


Vickie said...

My husband is in the oil business, too, Lana. I know where you're coming from. I don't like the high gas prices, but it helps us out personally. I don't like the refineries, but they are a necessary evil. I understand about frac-ing and the need for it. Too many celebrities and others are bashing the industry and they don't have a single clue what they're talking about. Problem is - lots of people listen to their garbage and raving. I'm too grateful for all the products that the petro-chemical industry brings our way to give them up. I'm proud of my husband's 30 years of knowledge in the oil business and his efforts to not only make a living for his family, but to improve exploration methods and better the way things are done to get those precious commodities out of the earth.

LindaG said...

Amen about fools.
God comfort and bless all involved. said...

Vickie - It's great that you recognize your husband's contributions. Sounds as if he's been doing this for a long, long time. I'm glad that our area has the knowledge to use our resources as best as possible to better society. It feels good that what is created is making such a huge difference to our society.

Linda -- I agree and may God be with the loved ones who are suffering with their loss.