June 23, 1997 in Nation/World

Blast At Shell Sends Toxic Chemicals Into Air

Compiled From Wire Services

An explosion and a fire fueled by toxic chemicals erupted Sunday morning at a Shell Chemical Co. plant in this Houston suburb.

While police advised nearby residents to stay indoors, Shell officials said the chemical smoke posed no health risk.

Shell spokesman Darren Martin said the cause of the 10 a.m. explosion wasn’t known. It occurred in a unit which manufactures propylene, ethylene and benzene, all used in a variety of chemical products.

All are extremely flammable substances with vapors that can cause dizziness and suffocation. Benzene is highly toxic.

The plant, a subsidiary of Shell Oil Co., has about 2,400 employees. About 50 Shell and contract employees were on duty in the unit at the time of the blast. One employee was treated for chest pains, and all employees were accounted for.

Trails of the black smoke could be seen from miles away.

Martin said the burning benzene released into the air was within federal safety limits.

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