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Los Alamos Supports the U.S. EPA During an ASPECT Quick Reaction Deployment to the Marcus Oil Chemical Fire in Houston, Texas, 12/03/04

At 6 pm Central Time on Friday 12/03/04, the Marcus Oil and Chemical Plant located in southwest Houston, Texas was reported by plant personnel to be on fire.  The plant is a large manufacturer of a polyethylene wax that is used in a variety of consumer products.  Within 15 minutes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to deploy the ASPECT aircraft from the Waxahachie, Texas hangar to support ground HazMat teams.  The focus of the deployment was to determine the threat of downwind chemical hazards at the site.  Initial observers at the site reported flames several hundred feet high.  The Houston Police and Fire Departments immediately evacuated a 4 square block area around the plant.

Los Alamos was notified by the EPA at the time of the aircraft deployment and requested to support an emergency reach-back data analysis effort to support the emergency responders on the ground and in the aircraft.  By 7 pm, an initial set of hyperspectral FT-IR data was received at Los Alamos and transferred to computers for assessment and evaluation.   The results were evaluated and shipped to a main receiving computer at the EPA in Kansas City.  The incident commander at the site was provided the information of all of the data stored on the EPA computer.

A number of data passes by the aircraft were completed beginning at 6:30 PM on 12/03/04 and continuing until 2 AM on 12/04/04.  The initial results indicated that the chemical hazards were minimal at the site.  However, the aircraft detected significant amounts of ethylene.  Ethylene is a starting product for the Marcus Oil polyethylene wax process.  In addition, significant quantities of sulfur dioxide were detected at a specific point in the facility.  All information was reported to the incident commander with the location of highest concentration.  The sulfur dioxide source was potentially attributed to the combustion of building materials at the plant. 

The response results again confirmed the utility of the ASPECT aircraft for emergency response at a chemical plant disaster.


Contact: Robert Kroutil, C-PCS

Posted 12/8/04



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