TPC Explosion Forum With Tiffany Murphy And Fred Vernon

TBC 17 | TPC Explosion

 

On November 27, 2019, two massive explosions tore through TPC Group’s chemical plant in Port Neches, Texas. Chemical and petroleum-based products blew up in smoke and have since affected many in the area, prompting a mandatory evacuation among those within a four-mile radius. Discussing this recent event,  host Jason Byrd brings on two guests to share with us their experiences and insights about this TPC Explosion – local reporter Tiffany Murphy and local business owner Fred Vernon. They get down to the details of what happened, what has been happening before with TPC, and what will happen in the future. They talk greatly about the issues that have been surrounding chemical plants and how they have been affecting many lives and the environment. Get into this conversation to learn about the information that may have been missed—what role politics play, how the event’s possible repercussions will be taken up by the law, what you can do when you are affected by similar situations, and more.

Listen to the podcast here:

TPC Explosion Forum With Tiffany Murphy And Fred Vernon

It’s been a while since I’ve put on a show. I’ve been busy and I’m closing it out, but I’ve got a special edition for everybody. I’ve got two guests. I’ve got a couple of friends here from the area, Tiffany Murphy, a local reporter and your all-around lady. I also got my buddy, Fred Vernon, a local business owner and a good friend. I threatened to have him on before. Welcome, I’m glad you’re here.

Thank you. We’re happy to be here.

A lot of times, we talk about general areas of life and how it affects the law and vice versa on the podcast. I’ve had MMA fighters all on insurance agents, lawyers, mediators and all kinds of people. We’re generally going to talk to about the TPC explosion. It’s more of a current event affecting our community. I thought it would be a good thing to have the three of us because we’ve got diverse backgrounds, experiences and insights and have a conversation about what happened, what’s happening and what we see is going to happen. For people who may not know what have happened, let’s start with you, Tiffany. Give us a breakdown of what has happened.

The TPC plant has been around and it’s changed hands since the ‘40s. It’s quite an older plant. On Wednesday, November 27th, before 1:00 AM was the first explosion that happened. From what I have heard from viewers that have messaged me, some of the people at the plant smelled something. They knew there was an issue. They were working on it. After they smelled something, they went to the blast shelter. I think that is a valid reason why no one died at this point because if you see the monstrosity that’s happened after this, you would think, “How did no one die?” First and foremost, that’s amazing that no one has died. There were a few injuries and those people were treated. Throughout the day on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, multiple smaller blasts occurred.

The second major blast happened before 1:50 PM, Wednesday. On the video that has circulated on Facebook, you can see a tower and those towers are huge. The blast forced it through the air up as if it was nothing. We learned that there was another larger blast that occurred. I have gotten multiple messages that people across the street at Huntsman were sent home, nonessential personnel were sent home through Wednesday. I haven’t been able to confirm the reason why. I’d like to state that I’m speaking on my own behalf. I’m not representing the television station, so these are things that people have spoken to me that I’ve heard. Also, we’ll get into the actual research that I’ve done as well.

Part of why I asked you is because I knew you were here working during Thanksgiving week. It fell on probably your shoulders because you’re one of the people working and be with the news. That was more of it. My family leaves town every Thanksgiving. I was on my way out when all this happened, but I’ve monitored it. I hadn’t been back until recently. Fred, you were at home when this blast occurred.

I was at the house when the first blast occurred. We were asleep. I remember hearing a rush of wind. It literally shook the house. We were less than four miles away and we were in the mandatory evacuation zone. I remember waking up to the sound and then the baby started crying. We went and got her and put her back to bed. The second blast was when things got bad. I remember my dad and I were at the Golden Triangle Federal Credit Union. My mom and my wife were at the house preparing for the Thanksgiving meal. The Credit Union is in Groves, Texas. The second blast hit and the Credit Union was shaken and everybody ran outside to see what was going on.

We saw the smoke and everything going up from the second blast. I recall looking on Facebook and seeing the actual footage of that explosion. By the time my dad and I returned to the house, we could smell chemicals and hydrocarbons. Whatever’s coming off their plant, we could smell it and almost taste it when we got back to the house. It got me sick. At that point, we decided we’ve got to get out. I remember grabbing my daughter, she started coughing and choking as we brought her outside and tried to put a blanket over her to reduce the exposure. I started heaving and choking. We were able to get up the road and decide on a game plan. My mom and dad live further south, out of the line of smoke. The smoke was going right over my house. I have videos and footage of that. If you were at a certain angle and you were not directly in the course of the wind or the smoke, you could see the smoke tail in the wind. My house was right under it. It looked like the smoke was going straight up in the air.

A little background for people who may not be from this community, we’re talking about a plant located in Port Neches, Texas. If you look on a map, it’s in Southeast Texas, right on the Neches River before it hits essentially the Gulf of Mexico. It is probably 25 miles from the border with Louisiana. As the crow flies, we’re in Downtown Beaumont now. As we sit here, we’re probably about 10 to 15 miles away. I figured my house here in Beaumont is probably a good fifteen miles from the location. You technically live in Port Arthur, but very close.

That was part of the evacuation order with Northern Port Arthur as well, along with Groves, Port Neches, part of Nederland too. The other thing that is interesting to mention is it’s called the Golden Triangle for a reason. When it’s dark, it looks like a triangle because of all the lights from all the refineries and plants. This area has thrived on this. We have a huge port and it’s been our economic thing.

It’s been the thrive for over a century. Effectively, big oil started here with the Spindletop discovery at the turn of the century and then the second Spindletop. As we sit here in Downtown Beaumont, a little history of my building here, it was built in the ‘30s during the depression. Most of these buildings were built in the ‘20s and ‘30s and they were done so because despite the depression going on, the second big Spindletop field was here. There were jobs. There was money. If you go as far South, probably about Corpus Christi and follow the coast, the big Southern Houston like Charleston and all the way across Louisiana, that’s where the chemical processing and the crude oil refining system for the United States exists. It is 75%, if not, it is more. It’s done up and down this coast.

I would have to say that we have a lot of people that know a lot about that here. We also have people that have never experienced that and don’t know what happens. Even from outside, it’s not like we’re making gas for cars. These are plastics products, tires, plastic bottles, cups and ropes. The list goes on and on from what happened. What’s scary is that on a Wednesday, I went out in it. We drove right by TPC after this happened, after the 1:50 PM blast. Beforehand, I stopped at M&D Supply. I have asthma so I wanted to get a mask and I grabbed two, one of those little dust masks. The other is the appropriate mask. I’ve never done this before. I didn’t know you had to buy the cartridges. I grabbed the mask and I left. I grabbed one for me and my photographer. After we were there, I realized, “I don’t have the right one.” I wore the dust mask and then quickly learned that it was doing absolutely no good. It’s covering your face, but potentially it wouldn’t have stopped asbestos, which we’ve learned in the air as well from that 1:50 blast because this plant is so old. Asbestos is a great insulator. Before we knew how harmful it was to people, that tower that blasted off was rounded with asbestos to insulate it.

I don’t know the history of the plant as well as others would but in another life, when I first started my legal career, I worked at a big, good-sized law firm. I represented facilities, not this one, but numerous. In that work, I got to know about a lot of the facilities around here and people who had worked multiple places. It’s built in the ‘40s as a war plant. It is part of the war effort. I believe it’s a chemical plant then effectively ships what it makes next door to a rubber is from what I understood from those years ago. That’s oversimplifying it, but it’s a war plant. In World War II and we needed things like metals, synthetic rubber for tires, everything used in the war effort. It’s been in production ever since. This facility is close or it may be on the river. I can’t remember if it’s on the river or just nearby.

There is a body of water. I don’t know what that body of water is but at a press conference, there was a sheen found on the water. Multiple crews have been hired to get in the water on boats and test it to find out what that sheen is, what is in the water and if any chemicals have been in the water.

You make a great point as it relates to those towers being insulated with asbestos and I don’t think a lot of people understand that. Everybody from Port Neches in the Golden Triangle, we know the oldest butadiene plant, but we are unaware that particles like asbestos could potentially be in the air affecting the surrounding areas. I think that’s a great point. People need to be aware of that as well.

For the old-timers, everybody would call it the Neches Butane Plant. In fact, people probably still call it Neches Butane.

The other thing to mention is that it’s our norm. We have houses that the TPC plant, Huntsman, other plants, that’s their front yard. They live close to it and they have for years.

You see this in Port Arthur, down the road. You see it in next to some facilities that are much larger and frankly much older. You’ve got a 100-year plant, the old Texaco plant. It’s down in Port Arthur that hits over 100 years old.

Different companies have bought different plants. Different companies have different strategies for saving money, quality control, safety and updating. There are some companies that we don’t need to go down the line. From my research, speaking with people firsthand that have been in the industry for over a couple of decades, some companies have chosen to update. There are other companies that you can hire to come in and feel safe so that when something is about to crash, you can catch it in time. The other thing that I’ve learned in some of my research is the EPA has guidelines. There are state guidelines and federal guidelines. That’s one of the most disturbing things. When I say research, I probably spent three hours specifically one afternoon. That’s all the time I have, 5:00, 6:00, 10:00 comes in, you don’t have a choice. I did whatever I could in that time. We have a very small staff where I work and so we do everything.

The disturbing thing is that in 2015, the EPA had a big release. It was 900 pounds of chlorine gas. At the beginning of October 2015, there was a work order put in place that there was something that needed to be fixed. Two weeks later, it was broken. It was corroded so the air quality monitoring that TPC has didn’t catch that in that 48-hour period that the 900 pounds of chlorine gas were released. They were fined. The EPA, when they fine you as a company, it’s just over $11,000. To us, that’s a lot of money, but to a company that is making millions of dollars a day potentially, that’s pennies. Is it that big of a deal?

It's good for citizens to have a second check and balance on the TPC explosion. Click To Tweet

I would argue that’s a slap on the wrist. I’m in business and as far as safety and having safety protocols and processes to catch things, there was a leak of gas that wasn’t detected. In 2017, I was reading the Tribune. They said that there was another issue that they were fined for. They were required to put upwards of $275,000 for a fence lining and butadiene monitoring systems. An outside agency that had to come in and force them to do that. If you’ve got an outside agency coming in having to tell you how to perform safety and that you have to invest in safety protocols, that’s a problem.

I’ve gotten a lot of flack because people think I’m singling TPC out. Quite frankly, I am at this point because Huntsman didn’t explode, TPC exploded. Huntsman and the other corporations, have they been fined by the EPA? Absolutely, they have. Those are all public documents. You are more than welcome to search and you can find all of the different plants around the Golden Triangle. They have all been fined a lot of money. Similarly, they’ve all had to implement different things. They’ve all created parks that are not under the goodness of their hearts. It’s because they messed up and they’ve been ordered to put back into the community. I am singling TPC out because their plant exploded and potentially endangered thousands of lives.

A lot of people live close to the plants, probably within this four-mile radius. We’re talking about 50,000 people in the area.

A lot of people may give flack about, “Why were you singling this plant?” It’s because they’re the ones that exploded in our front yard. If had it been ExxonMobil, we would be talking about ExxonMobil. Unfortunately, TPC, that’s the refinery that exploded in our front yards. That’s the refinery responsible for people breathing in hazardous materials potentially. It’s very appropriate that we discussed their history. It’s appropriate that we discuss what’s going to happen going forward. Those who are against this, I don’t know what to say to them but I can speak for my family. I can speak for what we went through. I think that TPC is directly responsible for the tens of thousands of people that were affected directly and they should be held accountable.

There are a lot of people that are sick. I know a very close friend of mine and his wife have been coughing more than he’s ever heard her cough before. I was only in it for about four hours, but I live in Beaumont. Air travels and we’re not that far from the TPC plant. I have asthma, but I think the last time I’ve used my inhaler before this situation has been over six months. I haven’t worked out. It was the first day I was back and I had to stop. I literally couldn’t breathe. The latest EPA monitoring came out at 11:30 so they have handheld monitors around the area. I have that, they’re all listed. You can see locations and neighborhoods very close as far away as Beaumont City. It’s all within a level. I’m sure they’re doing their job. I’m not a chemistry major, but it seems so crazy to me that all of these things have happened and since the explosion, all the levels have been within federal guidelines.

In that regard too, Fred and I have a long-standing relationship. Part of me working with Fred is always to help, be an advisor and a friend and look out for him. We talked about it and engaged at an independent air quality testing facility to come up to his house. They’ve come out. They’ve taken samples and we haven’t gotten the results, but it costs a whole lot for us to spit out results that fast. We should have some results in the coming days and we’ll certainly provide them to you or whoever wants to see them.

I thought that was the right thing to do for myself and for my community. The TCEQ that were out there with their monitors and everything, at the end of the day, a second check and balance doesn’t hurt. At the same time, I don’t want to get too political with it, but the board of directors, the commissioners of the TCEQ are appointed by the governor and the governor’s campaign is funded by the members of private equity firms and members of these big oil and gas companies. That might represent some conflict of interest. I’m not an expert by any means, but I have common sense. We all do. It’s good for citizens to have a second check and balance on that. To pay for an air quality check around my home, I think that’s the right thing to do each press conference was a live broadcast and you can find all of those broadcasts.

Where can someone find them? Do you remember?

In any of the TV stations. Probably, the county has kept them as well. I would advise if you have time and you want to get into this and you want to see if we’re spewing facts or the truth or biased opinions, watch them and see how people interact. See how people answer questions. See how they try and pass the buck.

I was talking to Fred about this and I said, “The government serves an important function.” I know many of our local officials and I trust them. I have no reason not to support them, but it’s important for citizens to trust, but verify. I’ve got a silly example. This was after Hurricane Harvey. A lot of people were sheltered. A lot of people were displaced. It was a dramatic situation. A lot of the animals were displaced as well. I’ll never forget seeing a local official’s Facebook page. I believe it was posting to dispel rumors about animals dying and there were no dead horses hidden behind the hill. I knew it was untrue because, at the time, I own interest in a waste removal company. We removed the dead horses. I physically saw them. I went on that run to see what was going on at FourPark.

TBC 17 | TPC Explosion
TPC Explosion: TPC is directly responsible for the tens of thousands of people that were affected directly, and they should be held accountable.

 

It’s not the same thing going on here, I wasn’t able to read the detail of who posted it, who was saying this, but it was on an official page. I could go back and find it if necessary, but that’s not the point. They probably didn’t know, the person saying it. That’s passing the buck sometimes. To me, it’s not a big issue. Farm animals get spooked on a big flood and things like that. Some of them are going to die. The fact that you have to remove them and you want to keep people calm, I get that, but if there’s that horse soul and that’s part of the life cycle. Let’s not lie.

Let us tell the truth.

I’m not saying anybody’s being not forthcoming, but I’ve seen situations where not the exact truth comes out as well. It’s important to trust the information, but use your common sense and verify.

Hindsight is obviously 20/20. We have people that we put in charge to hopefully think about the greater good of the community. I always think it’s great to exercise extreme caution, especially in cases like this. Down the road, we’re going to learn from this.

I’ll tell you this, emergency management people have a really hard job. It’s almost impossible. Particularly because they are going to have to rely on information that they’re not obtaining themselves, that is given to them. In this situation, you’re going to have to rely on a lot of the information that TPC is providing. Frankly, they might not have the answers.

I have to give a shout-out to Jeff Branick, a Jefferson County Judge because he has done his best to be forthcoming. Even in a press conference, he said, “Can you explain that to me?” I think he said, “I graduated with a Communications major and I went to law school. I didn’t major in chemistry.” That’s the same thing, these people are relaying information and he relays it to us. He’s done a great job. At press conferences, we’ve asked certain questions and my little recorder antennas go up when people don’t get me the answers. For instance before 9/11, any of us could find out what was in these spherical tanks, the API tanks. Obviously since 9/11, it’s a potential for terrorism. Those have been taken out even from a freedom of information request. I totally validate that.

I don’t want anyone to know what’s there. However, you try and take people’s word that they’re telling you the truth, but through my research and speaking with people that have been in the industry, when we ask questions like, “What’s in the tanks and what blew up?” They said, “We don’t know because we lost power.” I had a few people that said, “That’s not how it works.” Not only do you have a spreadsheet or a diagram of what’s in the tank that’s on the Northeast side and XYZ, even if you can’t see it, you know where it is and what’s in it. All of that information is real-time data that is offsite. That’s monitored. The moment before the blast happened, when all that stuff was still being monitored, they knew how much chemical was in each of those tanks.

Have you heard from anyone at the press conference or what exact chemicals they believe have been released or potentially put up in New Orleans? I’ve heard mixed things and it’s hard for me to decipher over a holiday weekend, travelling and doing all that.

I will tell you specifically what I have found out. We asked a couple of times and they passed the buck and then I asked again. My station is the only one that has that information. I spent 40 minutes on the phone with the gentleman that’s been appointed the Public Information Officer for Jefferson County. I spoke with a production manager from TPC. The chemicals that are stored at TPC, we knew this as well. If you check their website, it says it. I reported that, but I wanted to know specifically about it. There are different types. There are the spherical tanks and there are highly volatile chemicals in there.

Those are the big tanks that look like spheres.

As a community and nation, we need to take a strong look at where these processing plants are being constructed in the future. Click To Tweet

There were nine spherical tanks that were impacted. In those nine, there were four raffinates, one butadiene, one crude C4, one polyblend and one rich solvent. When they told me that there were nine impacted, that means anything from some smoke damage to it or split on it to potentially be gone. They told me they couldn’t say exactly because the day that I spoke with them, it was foggy and it wasn’t safe to send anyone in. They couldn’t see from the drone footage as well. They don’t know at what impact this is. One of those spherical tanks did blow. I was told that all of that was in it burned off before that happened.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s 2019 and they have the technology. They knew exactly what was in those tanks. They knew the exact quantity of what was in those tanks. I’ll give you an example. If I have a Hazmat truck that goes to a rack and loads up X quantity of fuel and it transported from X, Y, and Z plant to another plant offsite, they know exactly how much the quantity of liquids, gas, and material were transported in that vehicle. If my vehicle for some reason blows up on the road, they’re able to tie back those documents, whether they were completely burned up or not. They’re able to track back and see what time the driver picked it up, what the chemical was because they have to know how to abate the chemicals that were on the road.

For a plant or refinery to say they’re not 100% sure at this time what was in a fixed physical plant, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s not completely accurate. We know exactly what’s going on, especially with hazardous materials. You talked about 9/11 and making a lot of changes as far as documentation. There’s a flip side of that coin as well. It states that it’s not public information of what’s being contained. It’s more stringent about how they document what is contained there and protection in encrypting the data, to track what’s being captured and held in those tanks. They know very well.

In the processing tower that blew up and shot like a rocket, they presumed that there was some butadiene in that as well.

It would make sense too that it would help project it like a rocket.

You’re a lawyer and the first thing that happened was a lot of people had damages to their houses. A lot of people are experiencing health problems as well. They have a concern that they will be sued and already they were being. There are a lot of firms that are representing people and they’re being tight-lipped.

I get it. If I was their lawyer, I’d tell them to do the same thing. Certainly, they have enough sense to be advised by counsel and it’s because they’re sending out adjusters trying to get ahead of things. That’s smart on their part to do as well.

Jason, in your experience, when this ends up in mediation or arbitration or potentially even the courtroom, the materials that we’re exposed to the destruction and chaos, do you see that being disclosed in the courtroom at some point?

All this information will come out. It will come out in what’s called the discovery process. They may try to limit it to some degree, but ultimately, people are going to find out. They have a right to know what they were exposed to, what they weren’t exposed to and what levels. They have a right to independently test and I had people look at that on their behalf. There are handheld devices, but where are these devices being placed? Where’s the wind direction? There are a lot of questions. All that information will come out. A number of law firms have already filed suits. Let’s take that with a grain of salt. They filed class actions and essentially come in and trying to get restraining orders. That’s it. In an abundance of caution, we too have an order from a judge saying they can’t destroy these pieces of information or documents. You can’t protect against that, otherwise, there are consequences for it, but as far as a class action actually being maintained is unheard of.

Why?

TBC 17 | TPC Explosion
TPC Explosion: We produce a commodity that the entire world needs, but at what cost? You have to take the good with the bad.

 

The standard class action is very difficult in a situation like this. Let’s say you’re my client. Tiffany Murphy is the leading class, the client. You’re not filing a suit only on your behalf, but as a representative of everybody similarly-situated. When you have situations involving variables, not everybody has the exact same type of damage. You have people that have a lot of property damage and some potential personal injury. You have some people who have some personal injury but no property damage and a mixture in between. There are so many variables between them, it’s going to be nearly impossible to maintain the class action from start to finish. It’s smart to do it that way. There may be smaller classes that are for certain types of people, but the way the appellate courts have looked at them over the years, particularly in this state, I wouldn’t see it as a class action ever be maintained all the way through.

Jason, what are the odds that in 20 or 30 years, if people start coming down with very specific types of cancer that are related to these specific chemicals, will they be able to be paid?

We’ll have to see right now. It’s been my experience, not so much as a lawyer because it’s been years since I dealt with the cases. It was only a few and I was young, but in this area, they still occur. There are people who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, AML and those types of long-term acute small-level exposure to these very chemicals who end up with these diseases. Your likelihood of having that by living near these areas is substantially higher than if you live where you lived in Iowa growing up. That’s a fact. There are epidemiology studies on it. They pull them out or prepare for it that way, but that happens.

To determine honestly into your question, we’re going to have to get some scientists and not lawyers, who can examine exposure levels, symptoms and potentialities. That’s a scary thing and that’s something I’ve been through myself. I was involved in a chemical exposure situation. It was a little smaller with the plant exploding, but a large barge carrying hydrocarbons crashed outside a little town I grew up in. I was in high school. It’s how much were you exposed, how much can you show, and what’s the likelihood and it all ended up getting resolved there, which may or may not happen here.

For instance, this company like others must carry insurance. The phone number that people need to call has been highly publicized. If this company goes bankrupt in twenty years when these people have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or fill in the blank and they are able to document that it came from this specific incident, who pays? Does the insurance still pay at that point or the SOL?

There’s a lot of change in SOL. Insurance could still fall on it, but there are no guarantees. I don’t know that they have insurance. What says that they have to have insurance?

They released a phone number that said it’s their insurance company.

Years ago, I represented the largest chemical plants and refineries in the world and they were self-insured.

Is it because it is too expensive to carry?

They’ve got all the money anyway. Why don’t they self-insure? If you’re ExxonMobil, where are you going to get insurance? If you’re DuPont, why are you getting insurance? You might buy it in a niche area, which you’re doing, but to set up a company and if something goes down, you try and structure it in a way where that hits the bearing. There may be some of that going on. It’s hard for me to speculate it because that’s all I’m doing without seeing the corporate documents, without seeing what insurance they have. I doubt they have. If they do have insurance, they have it at such a level that’s going to protect them completely. If something happens due to their negligent acts and affects 50,000 people in one way or another and start doing the math. That’s a lot of insurance. They may and they may not, but what’s most important and this is what I tell people, I told Fred, “You need to leave. I know it’s Thanksgiving. If you want to come down to the beach, I don’t think it will be much fun. You’re welcome to join us, but I feel better about you leaving. Always take care of your physical health. I may be able to get your money at the end of the day, but that didn’t give your health back.”

We have to be more responsible about where we're building these refineries and with what is being put in our air. Click To Tweet

You don’t get more time. You can always make more money. You can’t make more time in your life.

That’s number one. Number two, worry about your property later, but take care of yourself. If people are having symptoms or feeling sick, start going to the doctor. If you don’t know where to go, talk to someone who can put you where to go. We’re going to remind you, here’s where Fred is going. Here’s where Tiffany is going. Go get that checked out. Also, if to this extent you’ve been displaced, keep receipts and money you’ve spent and things like that. That’s pretty common sense stuff. You have to document that. It’s hard for me to tell you though if someone develops AML twenty years from now. Every situation depends. That’s why a class will be a hard thing to maintain. Let’s say a patient in twenty years develops AML. He lives across the street from this plant, but for ten years, he worked in Silsbee, Texas, twenty miles down the road. Is it Silsbee that caused it? In this area, you’re going to have that situation. What about people who smoked two packs a day? What do you think is in the cigarettes? There are among 100 other nasty things.

You have people like me that try to eat organic, exercise five days a week, drink an extreme amount of water and try and live a healthy life. I’ve never been to a plant.

You have all these different factors. It’s hard to tell. I think scientists will be able to tell to some degree of your increased likelihood based on exposure levels, which if you take, “I was X. I was here this much time, in this level.” That goes back to your question, “What are the exposure levels?” Is that based on the guy’s information that couldn’t detect the leak within 48 hours, few years ago?

I don’t even know if there was air quality monitoring going on at that time, soon after it started. Those are all questions that we’ve asked a few times. We’ve also asked specifically where the non-handheld air quality are. I believe it was Troy Monk, the Director of Safety, Security and Health that said he’d get that information for us and we don’t have that.

Ultimately, a lot of these questions are going to be answered with information in science and that’s going to take some time. If you’re affected, it’s not going to give you any assurance today or tomorrow but in time, it will get done.

Jason, I’ve got a question for people that are looking to figure out what to do next. If they call the 1-800 number that TPC has set up, is there any documentation that they shouldn’t be signing that could potentially cause them to waive their rights? Should they consult with a lawyer before signing anything?

Regardless of the situation, if someone asks you to sign legal documents and you’re not trained, I would always ask that you consult somebody, particularly a lawyer. I hadn’t talked to anyone yet who’s gotten through that process and see what they’re asking them to sign. I would imagine they’re going to ask them to sign a release. I get them. They’re probably well-paid lawyers with pretty good releases. If you take something of benefit from them and sign a release, you’re probably figuring any type of claim you might have. That’s how it works.

People definitely need to proceed with caution. They need to be careful about what they sign. Definitely, seek legal guidance before signing anything that comes from TPC, their insurance company or any attorney that they may not know or have retained part on a personal level.

This is a unique legal community because overall the legal community here is as strong as it is per cabinet anywhere. A lot of us are pretty well-trained in dealing with some complex issues and high stakes litigation. That’s not one firm or the other. There are a lot of people out there qualified to handle that. It’s the nature of us being here for so long and with the issues we dealt with. There are a lot of seniors. There are a lot of people who would be willing to look at it for anyone. That was telling you that I’ve been getting calls over Thanksgiving and that’s not because I’m advertising anything.

TBC 17 | TPC Explosion
TPC Explosion: As we move forward in 2020 and beyond, we need to start taking a serious look at the place that these refinery and processing plants have in our society.

 

I’ve got relationships with people in Port Neches, in Groves, in Port Arthur, in Beaumont for the last twenty years and they’re calling. Whether we want to or not, I’ll probably be representing a bunch of people on these issues because those are my people. It’s a little different because it’s not every day you have a plant explosion, but you’re going to have a mixture of different types of damages. You can have property issues, which I’ve dealt with a whole lot. We can figure that out. You’re going to have your personal injury, immediate effects, and we’re going to have to look at some of this long-term effect.

Some people didn’t have anything depending on how your house was situated. I know another family who lives about a mile and a half from the plant and their entire house has shifted on its foundation and that’s expensive.

We have to mention that too, the blast effect. I’ve worked with a lot of engineers in the past and one of them even said, “We’re going to have to do some blast radius computations because you’re going to have that happen.” That’s not a cheap fix. It’s a lot out there. It’s a lot going on for people. It’s going to be a while before there are a lot of answers, but to answer your question, don’t sign a release unless you’ve had someone at least advise you what you’re signing. That’s not the company.

As we talked, that fire is still burning. It is much less. It’s contained, but it’s still burning. People were able to go back. The evacuation order was lifted even though it was still burning. They are finding huge pieces in their front yards. What about all the pieces you can’t see? That might need to be taken care of.

I didn’t realize this before we came on, but I believe there’s a third tower that failed as well.

That one happened overnight. There was another blast and that fell.

The fire still burns. Do you have any idea what’s burning?

No, they won’t tell me that, but I have heard from a couple of gentlemen who worked in the industry for quite a while and they say, “It’s good that it’s still burning on Thursday and on Friday because they were waiting to burn itself out.” Obviously, you fight a chemical fire differently than you fight a house fire. When it’s burning, that’s good. That’s why when you drive around the Golden Triangle, you see flares coming from that and that’s always good. I know it freaks out new people that are here and be like, “What’s on fire?” It’s not. It’s the flare. They said it’s positive, but that’s the only way to get this because I’m told that they can’t get to the shut-off valves. They didn’t know where those are at this point. They either blew up. They are inflamed. That continues to feed the fire. Once all the chemicals have burned out into the air that we breathe, it will be over.

It’s good times.

It’s very disconcerting to me because this is not my norm. I didn’t grow up here like other people. It is scary. I get that there are levels in the air, but the air is different here than when you go to other places. I notice a difference because I feel like I have asthma. I think I’m more susceptible or sensitive to it. Maybe it’s the allergies here as well. When I go to other places, it’s easier for me to breathe, whether there was an explosion or not. First of all, I have loved being here. I’ve lived here for years. I love this community and the amazing friendships and relationships that I’ve created, both positive and negative stories. Sometimes it’s what you do, but it is a little frightening. We produce a commodity that the entire world needs, but at what cost? What happens if we don’t produce that commodity? This area doesn’t exist. Where do we get tires from? Where do we get plastics from? You have to take the good with the bad. It’s been a lot of people’s livelihoods and it’s created and cultivated a lot of amazing lives for people.

We deserve to know what we breathe in and if we're going to have future side effects from it. Click To Tweet

Where are the good jobs coming from?

From the plants.

As we move forward in 2020 and beyond, as a society, we need to start taking a serious look at the place that these are refinery and processing plants have in our society. Is it necessary that they are built and constructed near homes and communities? Should they be marginalized and constructed in the future in areas that won’t impact families and people? We need rubbers, we need plastics, but at what cost? As a community and as a nation, we need to take a strong look at where these plants are being constructed in the future. Ultimately, what role, if any, should they have in our future?

I don’t know about you, but when Harvey hit, when Imelda hit, when this explosion happened, text messages were coming in every day, but not about this. People weren’t asking me if I was okay. They were like, “What’s up? I’m going to XYZ, do you want to come here for Christmas?” I don’t mean to say this to put people down but as Americans, we’re very involved in our own lives. My friends in California had no clue that an explosion happened and that people were evacuated on Thanksgiving or that was happening. There are many reasons behind that. What is sad that the national news outlets were here for a day? We were the headline and on Thursday, we were still the headline but it was 45 seconds. It was done.

Part of that is four million people don’t live here.

Those four million people use the products.

I don’t think we’re going to change that with one show.

It’s frustrating because it is important. Reduce, reuse, recycle, we could go on and on about that.

I think we all agree there has to be some change. The Millennial generation is starting to move in. I have hope that our generation will take a stronger look at these types of plants and refineries in our society. Whether somebody wants to call it climate change or global warming, the fact is we have to be more responsible about where we’re building these refineries. We have to be more responsible with what is being put in our air. We have to be more responsible about the safety procedures and processes that we have in place. We have to start holding people accountable for that.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, both you, but in the meantime, I’m going to be charged with the accountability part. On behalf of Fred and some others who’ve been affected, I’m sure there will be others, it’s been Thanksgiving. People who call them, the people I have direct relationships with. I’ll be going with the accountability side of it. That’s all we can do when people don’t live up to their end. We’ve got to find out what caused it and who’s going to be accountable. That’s what I know I’ll have to work on and all those work graphs. I said, “Fred, where do we go from here on new plans?” It’s sad that’s part of life too. I thought Fred didn’t call me when things are going good.

TBC 17 | TPC Explosion
TPC Explosion: We have to be more responsible about the safety procedures and processes that we have in place and to start holding people accountable for that.

 

I tried to.

A lot of people only pray when everything hits the fan.

It’s a fluid situation. You’ve done research. You’ve talked to more people, but that’s the tip of the iceberg proverbially with regards to the information that’s going to come out. Some of it’s going to come out naturally in the process of how you normally operate. Some of it’s going to have to come out through litigation and discovery. I’ll do this as more information becomes available. Maybe we get together and talk about some more and talk about it with some perspective too. Sometimes, it turns to pass and we can come back along in the future and give, “Here’s what we just saw when we first came on. We were talking about it and now here’s what we’ve seen. Here’s what we expect to see.” This will be something that’s going on for a while.

I’m looking forward to another conversation about everything. Hopefully, we’ve made some progress with getting more information out. I look forward to another opportunity to discuss this.

I’m going to keep asking questions because I want to know what I breathed in and how much of it was in each of those fears and those towers when it jilted off like a rocket. I feel that’s what we’re owed at the end of the day.

Tiffany, I’ll echo that. We deserve to know what we breathe in and if we’re going to have future side effects from it.

You only get one shot at this life.

Since I’m the lawyer here, I will give the other disclaimer that we started out with. Everybody here is just giving our own personal perspective. We’re not talking on behalf of our employers or our companies. Although, I am my company. I am talking to them on behalf of the whole firm but that disclaimer though for Tiffany and for Fred, that you’re here in your individual capacity and talking about an important situation to our community.

Yes.

We’re going to leave it at that. I know these beautiful and smart people have places to go and things to do, but we’ll keep you posted. If you have any questions going forward, we’re pretty easy to find. If you want to, put out where someone can find you if they have questions or information.

Even ideas to cover certain things. I was able to know what questions to ask because of a lot of emails and phone calls I received from people that work in the plant. I’m grateful to those people. You can find me on Facebook, on my professional page, type in Tiffany Murphy. On Instagram and Twitter, my handle is @ReporterTiffany.

How about you, Fred? Where can people find you?

I’m on Facebook as Fred Vernon. I look forward to any questions or comments in my direct message.

If you’re reading my blogs, you probably know where to find me, but you can find me at TXByrd.com or on Facebook. I’ll be friends with Tiffany and Fred. Thanks again. We’ll do it again soon.

Thank you for this opportunity.

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1 thought on “TPC Explosion Forum With Tiffany Murphy And Fred Vernon”

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