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"They Are Killing People For Money!"
The Newest Explosion in Texas City

Combined from worker correspondents Paul Hill & Jeremy Ryan
Photos by Paul Hill

A huge explosion at the British Petroleum refinery in Texas City on March 23 killed 15 workers and injured 100 others. The victims were said to be contract labor finishing maintenance work on the refinery's isomerization unit, which increases the octane level of gasoline. No executives were harmed. They apparently have bomb-proof offices.

While the world questioned the company's commitment to worker safety, BP executives moved quickly to control the public relations fallout. BP's group chief executive, John Brown, flew in from London to hold a press conference in Texas City the day after the explosion. "We will leave nothing undone to determine the cause and to make sure this never happens again," Brown said.

The People's Weekly World worker correspondent on site said that the pollution from the plant stung his eyes long before he arrived there. He photographed the plant entrance, with the flags at half-mast. He also recorded a sign reading, "Safety First - Just Do It!" While shooting photos, he was approached by a Texas City native who said, "They are killing people for money!"

Years ago, this man said that he had helped build a "bomb proof" area for plant operators. Outside management's offices, workers take their chances. He said the local citizens feel really hopeless because the local refineries are owned by foreigners with no regard for rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The BP executive's press statements belie their actions. According to Jeff Darby, an OSHA inspector and president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2139, there have been two other serious accidents at the BP's Texas City plant within the last year.

In March 2004, workers escaped injury when furnace valves ruptured causing a series of explosions. BP was fined $63,000 for 14 safety violations related to these explosions. In September, two workers died when a valve ruptured scalding the two with 500 degree steam. BP was fined $110,000 for safety violations.

The tragedy at BP was the worst accident at a US chemical plant or refinery in 15 years. In 1990, a blast at an Arco Chemical plant in Channelview, Texas killed 17 workers.

Texas city's oil refineries went up in a 1947 blast that set all records for American workplace disasters. As American activists begin to consider how they will commemorate workers killed and maimed on the job during the annual "Workers' Memorial Day," April 28, Texas City is sure to be on their minds.

BP's Texas City refinery is the third largest refinery in the US, processing 433,000 barrels of oil a day, 3 percent of the country's gasoline supply. About 1100 BP workers and 2200 contract employees were on site when the explosion occurred.

One BP sign reads, "Safety First -- Just Do It." The flowers are for the workers who died.

Photos by Paul Hill

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