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Testing eases concerns about impact of chemical warehouse fire

Fire happened May 5 at A-1 Custom Packaging in Spring Branch

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HOUSTON – Air, water and soil sampling show there should be no long-term health effects from the May 5 fire at A-1 Custom Packaging in Spring Branch.

The testing was done because at the time of the fire there was limited knowledge of what chemicals may have been stored at the site, officials said.

"The smoke and runoff from the A-1 fire appear to have contained substances consistent with most fires," said Houston EMS Director Dr. David Persse. "Nothing unexpected has been identified. As a result, it is believed that there should be minimal risk for serious consequences for those who were not on site at the fire."

"Because this owner had ignored requirements to report what they were storing at the site, the community and our firefighters had limited knowledge of what they were dealing with that day," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Everyone was understandably concerned. Thankfully, we have been able to confirm there is minimal risk, which should be a relief to residents."

Results of air sampling on the day of the fire and the following day show the kinds and levels of air pollutants found at the site and in Spring Branch Creek are in line with what is routinely found in Houston air.

Some of the same pollutants, and several others not routinely measured in air monitoring, were also found in the surface water and soil. In all of the tests, the measured concentrations were below applicable Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ambient air comparison values.

All forms of smoke contain irritants and potential carcinogens. The risk of negative health effects are proportional to the concentration of smoke an individual is exposed to and the duration of exposure.

Those who were not on the site of the fire may have experienced minor respiratory irritation, headaches and body aches for several days, but it is not expected there will be long-term health effects in the surrounding community.

First responders, especially firefighters, may be at increased risk, but they should have been protected by wearing their firefighting equipment.

The air, water and soil sampling identified several chemicals that were not in the limited information provided by the owners of the facility.

The facility did not have a Hazardous Certificate of Occupancy, was not registered with the city as a hazardous enterprise and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Central Registry does not indicate the facility is authorized to store significant quantities of hazardous materials. It is critical that facilities properly register and identify chemical storage so that first responders will know what to expect when they arrive on scene.

The fire also brought to light deficiencies in the Houston Fire Department’s inspection process, which has prompted an audit of HFD records.

The fire began at a residence at 1710 Laverne and then spread to the A-1 facility right next door. The investigation into the cause and cleanup operations are ongoing.