Cause of deadly KMCO explosion in Crosby still unknown

CROSBY, Texas (KTRK) -- KMCO is expected to provide an update on the explosion that killed one worker and injured two others.

The names of the injured workers have not been released, but the medical examiner identified the employee who died as James Mangum. Family and friends tell us that he was a jokester who was a good, honest and hardworking guy who cared about his job.

When we last heard from KMCO, they still didn't know what caused the explosion that killed Mangum.

Firefighters battled the fire at 16503 Ramsey Road, just off the Crosby Freeway in east Harris County for more than five hours on Tuesday.

A tank containing isobutylene caught fire and spread to a warehouse.

ABC13 has asked repeatedly what was stored in that warehouse. Officials responded by telling us that they are still investigating.

KMCO says they'll work with authorities to prevent this from ever happening again.

ABC13's Ted Oberg uncovered that the facility has some inspection violations in its recent past. Five "quarter" inspections resulted in violations of EPA rules, Oberg reported.

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KMCO released a statement around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in response to questions from the media and community:

Regarding KMCO's Most Affected Employees
"The entire KMCO team continues to mourn the loss of our friend and colleague, James Earl Mangum, or 'Bubba' as he was fondly known at the plant," KMCO CEO, John Foley said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as well as his two coworkers who remain in intensive care at area hospitals."

Out of respect for the families and their privacy, the company will not release further information on their status beyond confirming that both men remain in critical condition and the company is in close contact with their loved ones to provide care and support at this difficult time. The company is also providing medical check-ups and grief support services for other coworkers who were otherwise impacted.


Regarding the Status of the Ongoing Post-Incident Response and Investigation
As previously reported, the fire at the facility was extinguished yesterday, April 2nd at approximately 4:20 p.m. Emergency services teams continued to apply water and foam on hot surfaces to prevent any potential for reignition. The company greatly appreciates the swift and professional work of the sheriff's department, fire department, first responders, the EPA and other agencies that helped the company contain and control the situation.

As was reported yesterday, the EPA initiated aerial and ground level air monitoring soon after the fire started, and their highly sensitive monitoring equipment (detection down to 2 ppb) found no levels of any hazardous compounds in the air that would raise health concerns or prompt an order to shelter in place. The company has numerous air monitoring systems at the Crosby site and deployed teams of mobile monitors to gather air samples in surrounding communities and downwind from the facility. These roving monitors continued sampling throughout the night and continue today. The data from all these samples will be analyzed and shared with regulatory authorities.

All plant operations are suspended indefinitely, and the Fire Marshall has taken control of the Crosby site. This morning, the company responded to community and fire department reports of nuisance odors from still-smoldering areas of the plant associated with methanol and ethanol tanks. Responders applied additional foam to the areas to prevent the release of odors. "KMCO will remain vigilant in our air monitoring and rapid response until the site is completely stabilized," said Keith Terhune, KMCO's VP of Operations. "We apologize to our neighbors for any discomfort or concerns they may have felt as a result of this incident."

The company will continue to work with regional, state and federal authorities to investigate the cause of the incident and the integrity of all tanks and equipment at the plant. At this point, we still do not know what caused the leak of isobutylene or the source of ignition and believe it would be inappropriate to speculate.


Regarding the Compliance Record of the KMCO Crosby Facility
KMCO, LLC acquired the Crosby facility in 2012. Therefore, KMCO, LLC did not own or operate the Crosby facility and is not responsible for any historic incidents or violations that occurred prior to 2012, including those that were fully adjudicated in 2016.

After the acquisition, KMCO, LLC's new owners recruited a new management team in 2015 that dramatically accelerated the process of transforming the company by investing tens of millions in new capital and re-investing ongoing profits in people, processes, policies, and facility upgrades to safeguard our employees and the community, as well as the integrity and sustainability of our business.

Mr. Foley stated: "Ironically, the best fact-check of our company's commitment to fully safe and compliant operations is the fact that we self-reported all the violations and reportable incidents that we discovered after we took control of the facility. We did the right thing and the government fined us for it. But we remain committed to doing what's right regardless of cost."

Foley continued, "We will work with authorities to investigate yesterday's incident thoroughly to prevent it from ever happening again. And with the help of our dedicated team, we will continue our mission of transforming KMCO into a next-generation, best-practice operator that exceeds the expectations of our customers, employees, surrounding communities, regulators and the industry at large."


Regarding Communications with the Company
Community residents wishing to contact the company are invited to call the KMCO community outreach number at (281) 328-0285.

Residents are urged NOT to call the fire department unless they have an emergency.


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