Harris County sues ExxonMobil a day after chemical fire

Harris County filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil Thursday, less than 24 hours after a large fire at its Baytown Olefins Plant. Meanwhile, the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office is looking into the cause of that fire.

Fire Marshal's officials say fire investigators have been on the scene since 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, but the burned area is not safe to access yet.

"We still got some heat issues, as well as there could be some chemicals that are still there that need to be cleaned up, and it isn't quite safe for our investigators," said Rachel Moreno, a public information officer for the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office.

Fire Marshal's investigators spent Thursday interviewing workers from the plant.

"It's unacceptable that this keeps happening in our communities, and it's not right for the companies to say that safety is their first priority," said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. "We need them to take action on that. At the county, we're taking action."

The lawsuit alleges that ExxonMobil "caused, suffered, allowed, or permitted air emissions in Harris County in violation of the Texas Clean Air Act."

RELATED: Fire at ExxonMobil Baytown plant extinguished, air monitoring continues

ExxonMobil declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did say propane and propylene were two products that burned in the fire.

The city, county and state agencies all reported their air quality tests during and after the fire have not shown any unsafe pollution levels in the air surrounding the plant.

Judge Hidalgo says air quality test results were available to the public more quickly this time thanks to lessons learned and actions taken after the ITC fire.

"This time within 30 minutes we were up there," said Hidalgo. "We had a website live and we continue to improve—just this past week at Commissioners Court we passed a request for Pollution Control to bring us back what else they need."

Commissioner Adrian Garcia says the county is turning its attention to being proactive rather than reactive.

"I'd rather have the Fire Marshal doing a proactive inspection based on previous violation history," said Garcia.

Moreno says there are currently no regularly scheduled fire safety inspections at chemical plants.

"Right now we are doing complaint based inspections, so if we get a complaint, that's where our response is, as well as new construction," said Moreno.

The fire code will be changing soon though.

"The county just adopted a new fire code," said Moreno. "It will go into effect September 1, and then there's also some additional codes that will start on January 1 that go into effect with this new fire code, and with that we will be able to enter certain facilities."

66 people from the ExxonMobil plant were evaluated at a clinic following the fire Wednesday, either for minor burns or to test for benzene exposure. Benzene urine test results take about two weeks to come back.