Residents concerned about chemical exposure after massive fire at packing warehouse

SPRING BRANCH, Texas – Although Spring Branch Creek no longer runs red, area residents have persistent concerns about the chemicals that were emitted into the air following a fire at a local packaging plant last Thursday.

"We've been having raspy throats,” said Donnie Lee Gonzalez, who lives next to Custom Packing and Filling. “Sometimes, the smell is just overpowering, depending on the wind and what not.

The contaminant — thought to be part fuel additive — has not been identified publicly by state or federal environmental agencies.

A representative for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality released a statement Monday saying, “The site is currently under unified command with various local Houston departments, as well as the EPA, Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and TCEQ.”

According to the TCEQ release, the Houston Fire Department released the site from active fire suppression around 2 a.m. Saturday and cleanup of the area will continue. The TCEQ said an investigation is ongoing and

EPA contractors continue to conduct air monitoring, although all monitors have detected no hazardous materials.
Residents have also been concerned about delays in HFD to learning about the chemical stored and their associated hazards. The department did not learn about the specifics surrounding the chemicals until a "Custom Packaging and Filling" employee arrived on site and gathered the information, an HFD source said.

Whether a lapse on the part of the company or other involved agencies contributed to the delay is still unclear. Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday he is taking a closer look at the fire.

"The important thing is to make a determination on what happens with materials that exist in facilities in the city and that the Houston Fire Department has the information they need in tackling a fire of this kind," Turner said.

While both the EPA and TCEQ have certain requirements and databases about chemical storage information, the city does not maintain its own addressed-oriented database.

"We will be looking at that," Turner said.