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Officials address Missouri City oil well blowout that caused foul odors in area

MISSOURI CITY, Texas – Officials provided updates about an oil well blowout that happened in Missouri City on Dec. 6 that had residents worried after it caused a lingering order in several areas.

The blowout, which was an uncontrollable release of oil and, subsequently, hydrogen sulfide, was reported at 3:50 p.m. in the vicinity of Texas Parkway and the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road, city officials said.

VIDEO: Officials provide updates on Missouri City oil well blowout

A worker told KPRC 2 that a crew was drilling for oil when it began to spew.

The odor impacted area communities, but is not considered dangerous, officials said. Residents were asked to remain inside until the odor dissipated.
The well was under control by 12:55 a.m. Dec. 7.

After four days, the foul smell of rotten eggs continued to linger in several areas, which left residents frustrated and demanding answers.

"First of all, what am I breathing in?" one resident asked. 

Kyra Hardwick and Tanisha Green are neighbors who live in the Meadow Crest Subdivision -- about three miles north of the spill site.
"For us, it was really amplified yesterday when we got home. Probably about 9 p.m. when we noticed it. About 1 o'clock, we really couldn't even go in the house. It was absolutely inaccessible," Hardwick said.

Fort Bend County Emergency Management officials said about 70 percent of the spill has been cleaned up and 5,700 barrels of crude oil has been recovered and 1,000 cubic yards of crude oil-impacted soil have been removed.

The operating company, IWR Operating, LLC, which is overseeing the cleanup, assured state officials that the projected should be complete by the end of next week.

However, many residents are concerned about the effects of the gas. 

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas and depending on the amount of its exposure, could be poisonous with a wide range of health effects.

The effects depends "on how much hydrogen sulfide you breathe and for how long," Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials said.

Low levels of hydrogen sulfide can be smelled at the lowest level and can cause health effects such as headaches and nausea.

State Representative Ron Reynolds called a news conference Friday afternoon to give residents an update.

"There's a lot of gossip on the streets about what's going on. We wanted to bring the experts here to give out the facts. We want to be transparent, open and accountable," Reynolds said.

Officials provide an update on an oil well blowout in Missouri City that has caused a foul odor in the area. More details > https://www.click2houston.com/news/officials-provide-update-on-missouri-city-oil-well-blowout-that-has-caused-foul-odors-in-the-area

Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Friday, December 15, 2017

Local leaders and officials including representatives from the Fort Bend County OEM, Fort Bend County Fire Marshal's Office, Houston Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Response Team  and  Houston City Councilman Larry Green joined Reynolds.

The most concerning information for residents who also attended came from Dr. Neil Carman, a former TCEQ investigator who worked for the department for 12 years and said even low level exposure can cause harm to children and some adults.

"I don't think people were told the whole truth," Carman said. "I'm concerned that there were misrepresentations made to the public about hydrogen sulfide gas."

Carman has bachelors, masters and PhD degrees in biological sciences and chemistry. He worked 12 years inspecting hundreds of facilities with high levels of hydrogen sulfide gas.

"I also responded to citizen complaints about air pollution from many, many different kinds of sources -- a lot of it involved hydrogen sulfide. That was the most common type of complaint citizens had in Texas," Carman said. 

He said even low exposure of the gas can cause harm to children.

"I'm deeply concerned about children in the area that may have breathed hydrogen sulfide gas. Besides headaches and nausea, it can affect their memory. It has effects that are actually similar to hydrogen cyanide so it's not just an odor issue, it's an issue of toxic exposure to a developing brain," Carman said. "It only takes a single breath of hydrogen sulfide gas. It goes into the blood. It impacts the red blood cells, and it can go into the brain ... It's well known in the industry and regulatory agencies that it takes very little hydrogen sulfide gas to cause adverse health effects."

Carman said the gas is known in the industry to be extremely toxic.

"It's extremely acidic. It can corrode metal," Carman said. "I've seen it corrode metal ... It's very harmful to our bodies."

He hopes TCEQ raises their standard on levels that are considered safe.

"I think that the agencies need to air on the side of caution because H2S is extremely toxic ... It's going to cause a lot of health effects. There's been workers who've had exposure and then later on they've had serious heart attacks. So it definitely attacks the brain and the nervous system," Carman said. "The TCEQ has a 30-minute standard, but they were going to change that standard in 1992 to a much stricter one because it has health effects at very low odor levels, near the odor threshold, it will cause headaches.

"The EPA wanted to designate hydrogen sulfide as a hazardous air pollutant like lead and mercury ... but industries didn't like that, so it's not officially recognized."

Reynolds said he is bringing the expert's findings to the TCEQ. For now, he's advising families near the area to stay indoors. 

This map illustrates from where Channel 2 has received complaints.

It's the unknowns that have residents worried about what to expect from the spill.

"As a precaution, we should have at least gotten notification, received some type of notice, calls, something," Hardwick said.

"How much of it is un the air that I breathe over the past 48-50 hours?" Green asked.

It is unclear what caused the well to malfunction.

The company listed in front of the oil well property is First Solid Energy Group Lp.

KPRC Channel 2 News reached out to the company for a statement, but has not heard back.