August 4, 2008

Benzene Leak in La Porte Sends Several to Hospital

By Jennifer Latson, Houston Chronicle

Aug. 4--Cleanup efforts continued Sunday on a 2-mile stretch of Bay Area Boulevard in La Porte after a toxic chemical was released into the air from the nearby Goodyear Tire & Rubber factory, coating the road and sending nearly a dozen people to the hospital.

A safety valve at the chemical plant released benzene late Saturday night, blanketing about two dozen cars on the neighboring road with the carcinogenic and slippery substance.

One woman was taken to the hospital Saturday complaining of breathing trouble after she was exposed to the chemical, which can burn the eyes and, in high concentrations, cause dizziness and nausea. Seven to 10 others drove to hospitals, said Jeff Suggs, La Porte emergency management coordinator.

None of those exposed to the spray is expected to suffer serious health effects, Suggs said.

The valve is designed to rupture when pressure builds too high within the plant, he said.

"Why it overpressured, that's what they'll have to figure out," Suggs said.

The plant produces a tire additive that makes rubber more durable, according to the Goodyear Web site. An explosion at the same plant injured six workers and rattled neighbors in 1995.

Cleanup workers used sand Sunday to sop up the benzene and used pressure washers to clean the road, which was closed from Fairmont Parkway to Choate.

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