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Just under a year after the Watson Grinding & Manufacturing explosion killed two and destroyed more than 400 buildings, including houses, the Houston City Council approved a new set of regulations for handling hazardous materials.

Many of my constituents have asked what was going to come of this, explained District A Council Member, who represents Houston's northwest section where the explosion occurred. In a city without zoning, this is very important.

The revisions to the original ordinance improve firefighters' compliance capacities and add libraries, churches, public parks, and community centers to the list of sites that companies that store hazardous materials must be more than 1,000 feet away.

It also allows companies to apply for permits to store hazardous materials outside. Previously, only hazardous materials storage permits for indoor storage were required by businesses. The gas that triggered the Watson Grinding & Manufacturing explosion, propylene, was stored outside.

The amendment also provides a committee approval mechanism to further evaluate applications from companies seeking to change their storage space. The Committee shall include the planning officer, the building official, the fire marshal, and the emergency management coordinator, as provided for in the Order.

An ordinance passed regarding the Watson explosion.

Houston City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday restricting the disposal of hazardous materials in urban areas. The amendments are part of a response to the explosion at Mt. Pleasant that killed several people and destroyed hundreds of Spring Branch homes.

The blast was caused by a propane leak, which weakened the building structure, shattered windows, destroyed homes, and was felt miles away. The amendments passed Wednesday to represent the city's hazardous enterprise ordinance, which governs businesses' health and environmental issues.

This ordinance aims to prevent insufficient infrastructure from causing disasters like the Watson explosion in residential areas. This came from the Watson explosion, and many of my constituents have asked over this last year, what changes will come from it?

Before this law, businesses located within 1,000 feet of childcare facilities, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools could not operate. The changes incorporate libraries, churches, public parks, and community centers into the plan.

Another update further closes the loophole that exempted businesses from storing hazardous materials outside of the company rather than inside. Secondary changes to the code include clarifications and an appellate process for amendments.

Some council members noted that these reforms are only one of those expected at the state level. At the state legislature and other sources, there is also work to be done to help protect our people and communities from things they know about and things they don't know about the present in our neighborhoods. In a city without zoning, this kind of thing is significant.

The Watson tragedy followed several deadly incidents in the Houston area in 2019, including the Intercontinental Terminals facility fire in Deer Park and the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery explosion.

Environmental advocates have emphasized the importance of increasing transparency and tightening the country's and state's regulations to prevent such disasters in the future. The bottom line is these incidents are preventable, and Houston's City is not doing enough to stop them.

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