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Keep Houston Press Free
4

Another Day, Another 1,300 Pounds Of Benzene Accidentally Released

My old man, may he rest in peace, worked all his life for Humble Oil, which later became Exxon, which later became ExxonMobil, and during the course of his long career, the family became vaguely aware that often there were problems with compressors and turbines and other things that hummed in order to make gasoline.

The gasoline-making wasn't going well, we knew, when the phone rang at home and he announced, "I'm not here," which meant whoever answered the phone would have to tell whoever was calling from the plant that, nope, Dad wasn't home.

So now it's 2008 and those compressors and turbines are still breaking down at the world's largest refinery -- the ExxonMobil facility in Baytown.

The latest event over there lasted more than seven hours yesterday when the dadgum gas compressors stopped, resulting in the release of 1,298 pounds of benzene, a known carcinogen, and all sorts of other stuff.

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Yes, the benzene (and other pollutants) was released to flares so it can be burned up, but that doesn't burn up all of it, just 99 percent -- allegedly.

Which I guess is why my old man, a smart engineer who was said to know every nut and bolt in that facility, had us live way on the east side of Baytown -- far, far from where the compressors and turbines would stop humming.

-- Steve Olafson

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