Mysterious illness at BP plant sends workers to hospital


Apr 20, 2007

There was a big scare overnight at the Texas City BP plant. Dozens of workers were treated at area hospitals after feeling sick. It's the same plant which has had its safety procedures put under the microscope over the past two years.

BP officials say they have no idea what may have caused the mysterious illness. It all started around 9:30pm last night when several workers reported feeling light-headed and nauseas and complained their eyes were irritated.

All of the workers were in the pipe steel unit, which is undergoing an upgrade and hasn't been in production since 2005. There were 400 contract workers who were doing remodling there at the time. Close to a 100 of them were taken to area hospitals to be treated.

So far, BP officials say there was no chemical leak, no fire and no explanation for the sickened workers.

"At this point, we have continued to monitor our fence lines. We started monitoring immediately after we got the first notification," said BP plant spokesperson, Marti Gazzier. "We started monitoring at the unit that was down, the surrounding units and at the fence line to see if there was any kind of release and we have not detected anything."

No other units at the plant were evacuated because they did not get any sort of reading on their monitors. No alert was issued or evacuations ordered.

Work at that particular unit was halted and workers were sent home for the night. The investigation as to what caused their illness is under investigation.

Workers treated and released

About half of the workers were taken to UTMB Galveston Hospital and the other half were brought to the Mainland Medical Center as a precaution. Because they were exposed to an unknown substance, the hospital beefed up its staff to send patients through the decontamination process.

"We called in additional employees, additional directors," said Harold Fattig with the Mainland Medical Center. "We set up our decontamination unit, set up staging areas throughout the hospital in case they were needed."

All of the workers were eventually treated and released.

Critical report

Just last month, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a report critical of BP and OSHA.

It all stems from this blast back in March of 2005. 15 workers were killed and at least 200 more were injured. The board said BP didn't provide effective leadership, and OSHA failed to conduct thorough inspections.

OSHA has since promised to nearly double the number of workers trained to perform advanced inspections at chemical and oil refineries across the country. BP is planning to appoint an advisor to help implement safety changes.
(Copyright © 2007, KTRK-TV)