Refinery Overflow in Texas Emits Cloud of Gas Residents of a public housing complex in Baytown, Texas, are coping with the aftereffects of a tank overflow from a local oil refinery Sunday. The overflow sent a fog-like cloud of substance called process gas into the air, which covered windows and cars with a brown sticky goo.
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Refinery Overflow in Texas Emits Cloud of Gas

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Refinery Overflow in Texas Emits Cloud of Gas


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. A spill at the Exxon-Mobil oil refinery in Baytown, Texas this week left an awful mess at a public housing complex across the street. Some 60,000 gallons of substance called process gas oil or PGO, overflowed a storage tank late Sunday night. Hot steam escaped through a vent and carried a cloud of PGO over the housing complex.

This batch of PGO did contain benzene, a known carcinogen, but the company and the state environment commission say it was a small amount and shouldn't have health effects. Exxon-Mobil apologized and sent crews to the Archie Courts housing complex to clean up the mess. Patricia Robinson lives there. She says she heard a loud noise on Sunday night and went to see what was going on.

PATRICIA ROBINSON: When I went to the door it was a fog, a weird fog, thick like you barely could see through it. It was real white-like.

BLOCK: Did it smell?

ROBINSON: It had a horrible smell. You know, it's a smell like, you could smell chemicals.

BLOCK: Now when you saw this fog and smelled this smell, what did you do?

ROBINSON: I just closed my door because I didn't want the scent to get in the house. But that Monday morning, when I went to take my grandson to school, oil was everywhere.

BLOCK: Oil was everywhere?

ROBINSON: It was everywhere.

BLOCK: What did it look like?

ROBINSON: It's brown. I looked like lubricate oil, you know, oil that you put in your car. It was all over my windows, my windshield, all over my car. And my neighbor's car was parked next to mine. It was just coated. And they have a little white car and it was brown. Because my car is black.

BLOCK: Could you see to drive?

ROBINSON: I had a hard time trying to wipe it off. But I had wiped a little bit where I could kind of see. I could have had a wreck. Now I got to go and have windshield wipers replaced. They're out there detailing the car. They hired some detail people to come out to clean the car, so --

BLOCK: ExxonMobil hired some people?

ROBINSON: ExxonMobil hired them. And ExxonMobil was over here yesterday cleaning the buildings.

BLOCK: What was it like when the cleanup crews arrived, what did that look like?

ROBINSON: That scared me because all of a sudden the men just started coming in here. Buckets and they had brushes, they had sprayers and they had them hooked on their backs and they scrubbed the windows, the doors, well, one of them locked me out of my own house. But they didn't get it all.

BLOCK: They didn't?

ROBINSON: Because we have vents and you know it gets up in that vent as it comes down.

BLOCK: Vents in the building itself?

ROBINSON: In the buildings.

BLOCK: So you're worried about it getting into the ventilation system.

ROBINSON: That's right.

BLOCK: Ms. Robinson, I know that you have a grandson. Does he live with you?

ROBINSON: I have two grandsons that live with me.

BLOCK: And how are they doing through this?

ROBINSON: One of them had to stay at home today. He's sick. I don't know if it come from the chemical or if he just have allergies. I don't know. Because he has allergies bad. And the other one is a diabetic and he has seizures. And I couldn't let him come home at all.

BLOCK: Oh, you didn't, you just kept him away?

ROBINSON: No, I let him go over there and stay with my son.

BLOCK: What about your friends there? Are they doing okay?

ROBINSON: I don't know. One girl is at home. Matter of fact, I think its about five children at home today on this block.

BLOCK: Do you know why?

ROBINSON: Seem like breathing problems.

BLOCK: Is there anybody there giving healthcare?

ROBINSON: No, they told us if we do go to the doctor, we have to pay for it ourselves.

BLOCK: Who told you that?

ROBINSON: One of the supervisors from Exxon.

BLOCK: Well, Ms. Robinson, I hope everything gets cleaned up and I wish you all the best.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: Patricia Robinson in Baytown, Texas. The state says Exxon did not immediately report the spill and it's investigating the delay. Refinery Manage Chris Erickson says the company was within reporting guidelines. He says tests have been run, the site is cleaned up, and a contact number has been given to Archie Courts residents. He says if they still have concerns, including health concerns, they should give ExxonMobile a call.

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