Chemical fire aftermath sparks health concerns in Deer Park area

DEER PARK, Texas – Harris County Public Health officials were out past midnight Thursday making sure that all of the hundreds of people who stood in line for wellness checks were serviced.

On Friday, officials opened up shop at the Jimmy Burke Activity Center in Deer Park again. Meanwhile, schools in the area also responded, closing for another day.

"I got a rash from scratching my arms because they were itching," said Jan Willemsen, a lifelong resident of the area.

Willemsen stood with hundreds of people who waited in line, many of whom were feeling ill after massive amounts of smoke burned for days after the chemical tank fires at the nearby ITC Chemical Storage Facility.

PHOTOS: Reignited -- ITC facility burns again in Deer Park

"It's just scary. I'm just looking up in the sky looking if there is black smoke," Willemsen said.


Smoke has since dissipated. This is what it looked like just half an hour ago. @ReadyHarris officials said multiple tanks were burning. ITC incident command is responding. KPRC2 / Click2Houston

Posted by KPRC2 Rose-Ann Aragon on Friday, March 22, 2019


Just hours after Willemsen mentioned smoke, her concern came to life. From the Jerry Burke Activity center, black smoke billowed from the plant Friday around 4 p.m. Harris County officials confirmed that multiple tanks were on fire again after a re-ignition.

Benzene, a known carcinogen, reached elevated levels earlier in the week, closing some schools for another day Friday.



Several school campuses were closed Friday. Officials said they were playing it by ear. Deer Park ISD said it would decide what to do about Monday over the weekend.

"In school, everybody was talking about it. It just got me nervous," 11-year-old Deer Park ISD student Michael Herza said.

La Porte ISD mother Yahira Barcelo was worried about her 9-year-old daughter.

"Her hair started falling out," Barcelo said.

Harris County Public Health officials said they generally can't say what exactly is causing people's symptoms. They offered general health services and wanted to help alleviate panic in the area.

"Their concerns are generally about their upper respiratory and what they're smelling and seeing and hearing but there are a lot of them with underlying conditions," Les Becker, with the HCPH, said.

Becker said some symptoms are typical of the allergy season, like runny nose and itchiness but he said anyone who is concerned, should see their doctor or dial a nurse.

"Understand that it's natural and if they have any concerns, there's a nurse helpline. I encourage people to call that number," Becker said.

Harris County Public Health Dial-A-Nurse: 713-634-1110

Meanwhile, Barcelo said, her heart is broken.

"[My daughter] wanted to go outside. She cannot play and the contamination is so hard on them," Barcelo said.

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