Explosion, ammonia spill at E. Houston plant

June 11, 2008 11:26:07 AM PDT
Authorities say six people were hurt when ammonia spilled at the Goodyear plant in east Houston this morning. Goodyear officials say that ammonia leak was caused by a small explosion in a cooling unit.

It was just before 7:30am today when part of the Goodyear plant on Highway 225 exploded, sending ammonia into the air.

"Right now, everything seems to be stabilized," said Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Jack Williams. "But we want to be sure on our part that our HazMat people, that we don't have a continued problem here."

"The incident occurred in a heat exchanger, this piece of equipment that's about two feet by 15 feet long," said Goodyear plant manager Mike Lockwood.

Lockwood ways at least 10 people were near the unit known as C-2. The heat exchanger uses ammonia to cool down liquids which are used in synthetic rubber.

"Ammonia does have an effect on the breathing system," said Lockwood.

The smell was so strong that several people suffered from respiratory issues. Some were treated on site. Others were transported to the hospital.

The explosion never created any flames, but water was poured on the building to keep vapors from spreading.

"The unit has been completely shut down and isolated. We're doing checks through the unit at this time to ensure that all personnel are accounted for," said Lockwood.

The check was completed and the plant manager has given the all-clear for those who were evacuated from the building to return inside. As far as what caused the unit to explode, that's still under investigation.

Lockwood says company officials have personally checked on the six people who were transported to the hospital. He says those individuals are doing well right now, including the man who was closest to the blast.

Inhaling or coming into physical contact with high concentrations of ammonia can cause a variety of serious problems. If inhaled, it can burn your nose, throat and respiratory tract. And, of course, touching it can burn the skin and if it comes in contact with your eyes, it can cause permanent damage which could lead to blindness.

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