Voluntary evacuation order issued in Texas city after blast

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Thick smoke fills the sky above the TPC Group Port Neches Operations as emergency response crews try to contain the fire that continued to burn throughout the morning following an overnight explosion on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Port Neches, Texas. Three workers were injured early Wednesday in a massive explosion at the Texas chemical plant that also blew out the windows and doors of nearby homes. (Kim Brent/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

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PORT NECHES, Texas (AP) — Concerns over air quality have prompted a voluntary evacuation order that was in effect Thursday for a Texas Gulf Coast city where a pair of chemical plant explosions occurred last week.

Port Neches issued the voluntary order for its 50,000 residents late Wednesday after elevated levels of the chemical butadiene were detected. Jefferson County emergency management officials said the elevated levels did not pose a serious health risk, but could cause dizziness, nausea, headaches or irritation to the eyes and throat.

Butadiene is a chemical used to make synthetic rubber and other products.

The first explosion happened early Nov. 27 at the TPC Group plant about 80 miles (129 kilometers) east of Houston and was so powerful it shattered windows and ripped doors off hinges of nearby homes. A second blast occurred about 13 hours later, and the fire wasn’t contained until Nov. 29.

The blast sent a huge plume of smoke into the air that was visible for miles.

The explosion was the latest in a series of high-profile accidents this year up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, which is home to the highest concentration of oil refineries in the nation. In July, an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown left more than dozen people with minor injuries and put nearby residents under a shelter-in-place advisory for three hours.

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