HOUSTON – Texas environmental records show several refineries and chemical plants reported the unauthorized release of thousands of pounds of pollutants during Tropical Storm Imelda.
Air emission event reports show at least 10 facilities in Harris, Brazoria, Jefferson and Orange counties directly listed Imelda as the cause of the releases. These facilities combined reported approximately 75,000 pounds of pollutants were released over a four-day period.
Other facilities report emissions during this window but did not specifically list the tropical storm as a direct cause.
What type of pollutants were released?
A variety of compounds were released during the storm, including Benzene, Carbon Monoxide and Butadiene, 1-3. The single largest release was reported by the ExxonMobil facility in Beaumont.
State records show approximately 36,000 pounds were released "as a result of adverse weather conditions caused by Tropical Storm Imelda, a process unit compressor tripped causing a unit shutdown event."
Other facilities reported lightning strikes and rising floodwaters as causes for these events.
What is the state saying about the releases?
Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told KPRC that aerial and hand-held monitoring showed there was no danger to the public as of Thursday. Governor Greg Abbott temporarily suspended certain environmental rules for facilities in affected areas, as he did after Hurricane Harvey.
When TCEQ requested the rule suspension on Sept. 19, officials wrote that "such suspension is requested only to the extent the rules actually do prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster."
The rule suspension remains in place Thursday. When asked how long the suspension would last TCEQ officials wrote, "communities in areas impacted by Tropical Storm Imelda are still in the process of recovering from this disaster.
The state's and TCEQ's response to Tropical Storm Imelda is also ongoing, as they move into the cleanup and recovery phase. You can read more about the rule suspension on the TCEQ website.
"This does not give me any comfort," said Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, executive director for Air Alliance Houston. "I think what everyone needs to know is that there is no level of air pollution that is quote unquote safe."
Nelson worries about the cumulative effects of these incidents, given major fires and corresponding emissions at tank yards and refineries earlier this year.
"They impact our air quality, they impact our water quality, the impact the soil," said Nelson. "We have an expanding industry, we have more frequent storms, and we're all living in this region, and we're all impacted by it."