HOUSTON – Between 30 and 40 workers were treated for minor respiratory problems after a sulfur dioxide gas leak Wednesday at a Valero Energy Corp. refinery in Houston, officials said.
About 10 to 12 ambulances were called to the refinery after the vapor release was reported around 9:35 a.m., said Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Omero Longoria. Sulfur dioxide is a corrosive, colorless, very irritating gas or liquid.
Officials called for a shelter in place for the area around the refinery, warning residents not to leave their homes. The shelter in place was lifted after an hour.
Mary Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for San Antonio-based Valero, said in a statement the gas leak had been contained.
Officials said 16 employees were transported to local hospitals for minor respiratory problems.
“While these individuals are in good condition, as a precaution, they are being transported to the hospital for further observation,” Brown said.
The plant was in the middle of being shut down for normal maintenance when the gas leak occurred, said Valero spokesman Fred Newhouse.
Company officials did not immediately know if there was a direct relationship between the plant’s shutdown and the gas leak from a sulfuric acid tank, or if something else caused the vapor release.
The refinery, which has 350 to 400 employees, produces various products, including roofing-grade asphalt, gasoline, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel.
Newhouse said the refinery had several thousand employees on Wednesday because of the planned shut down.