Layoffs to hit blast-damaged tire and rubber chemical plant in Texas

After fiery explosions shut down a chemical plant near Houston last year, the company that owns the facility is cutting about 100 jobs and plans to temporarily stop production at the site.

The TPC Group Plant in Port Neches, Texas, will now be used as a transportation terminal and distribution center as it rebuilds the site from the devastating Nov. 27 explosion, according to company officials.

“As the company continues site response efforts, it has become clear that a potential rebuild of our Port Neches plant could take up to five years. Unfortunately, this timeline necessitates a reduction in our current workforce,” Houston-based TPC Group stated in a Tuesday news release.

TPC Group said the layoffs will impact salaried, union and hourly workers. Around 100 employees in total learned Tuesday that their role will be eliminated, according to the TPC release.

No fatalities were reported in the explosion and fire at the 218-acre plant, but state and county officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for 50,000 people within a four-mile radius. The plant had as many as 183 employees prior to the accident, according to the TPC Group.

Explosions shut down the TPC Group Plant in Port Neches on Nov. 27 and caused the evacuation of 50,000 people within a four-mile radius. Image: Patrick Griffin/Atascocita Fire Department

On Dec. 5, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency tasked with investigating the Port Neches plant explosion and fire, said “a vapor cloud over a butadiene unit exploded in the early morning of Nov. 27, setting off the catastrophic explosion at the TPC Group.” However, state and federal officials have not definitively determined what caused the TPC Group plant explosion and fire at this time.

The chemical manufacturing complex had produced synthetic rubber used for tires and hoses in the automotive industry. TPC’s customers have included Goodyear Tires, Firestone Tires and Dow Chemical Co.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the TPC Group in Travis County District Court on Feb. 21. The suit alleges the TPC Group violated clean air laws multiple times from January 2018 to September 2019.

TPC Group officials responded to the lawsuit in a statement.

“We remain focused on safely bringing this event to an end, minimizing impact to the environment while preserving the safety of the community,” TPC Group spokeswoman Sara Cronin said. “We have been working in cooperation with the relevant agencies and will continue to do so.”