Dow Chemical plant leak forces evacuation

October 27, 2009 4:15:17 PM PDT
Dozens of homeowners in Freeport have to look for a new place to stay for about a week after a toxic leak at the nearby Dow Chemical plant. Over 65 families in Freeport have until 8am Wednesday to get out of their home and into a hotel that Dow is paying for. While we couldn't find anyone who disagreed with the evacuation, we found plenty who disagreed with how it happened and why they weren't told sooner.

Resident Billy Smith saw the crews working just beyond his house Sunday morning and wondered why he had to wait until Monday to find out about a toxic leak just a few feet from his home.

"My attitude is that it should have been done earlier. It started leaking Sunday. Get the word out, knock on the door, get on the phone and say, 'Look we have a leak,'" said Smith.

An underground leak was detected Sunday morning and on Tuesday afternoon crews were working at the site. Dow Chemical won't say what time the leak happened, but did say the leak was detected by a pipeline walker.

The leak from a pipe about four feet underground was never emitted above ground. The leaking chemical is called TDI, used in the production of polyurethane foams. It is highly toxic, affecting the skin, eyes and respiratory system.

Even though Dow Chemical says the leak was contained on Sunday, the City of Freeport questions why Dow didn't notify them and its citizens immediately.

"Some of them are concerned about the time when the leak was detected on Sunday and the time the city was notified on mid-day on Monday. Dow Chemical has assured us that it was contained immediately, so we're working with them closely to make sure that's the case," said Freeport City Manager Jeff Pynes.

Dow Chemical insisted they followed proper procedure by first securing the area then putting together a repair plan.

"There wasn't anybody at risk during the time that we were working on evaluating our plan and our path forward," said Gary Hockstra, VP Dow Chemical, Texas Operations. "We were continuously monitoring the area. We will learn from all these events. We'll go back through the course of the event and we'll try and get better next time."

When we asked Hockstra if those words were an admission that Dow should have notified residents sooner, he replied, "No, I think that we followed our procedures."

Dow says they did things by the book in the event of a leak, however many citizens say they would have liked to know when it actually happened.

The affected area is from Zapata Street at Avenue R to Terry Street at Avenue U down to Dow Chemical on Brazosport Blvd.

Residents are required to be out of their homes by Wednesday at 8am, at which point Dow will begin to work on the pipeline structure. They will have to stay out of their homes for about a week.

The leak is at a pipeline structure located behind the Valasco Heights subdivision. However, not everyone that lives in the subdivision will be evacuated.

The company is providing hotel rooms for affected homeowners. The cause of the leak is under investigation.

City officials say residents have been asked to call the Freeport Community Emergency Information Line at 979-233-KNOW.

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