DEER PARK, Texas – The U.S. Coast Guard has tripled the length of booms it has deployed, hoping to contain more of the toxic product released during the Intercontinental Termainal Company fire in Deer Park and its clean-up process.
The boom now totals 27,000 feet, Jared Toczko, with the US Coast Guard said Sunday. Just the day before, the total was 8,500 feet. So far, crews have collected roughly 60,000 gallons of "oily product" from the waterways, he said.
The area of contamination stretches 2 nautical miles, from Patrick's Bayou to Lynchberg Ferry, and pockets of oil are collecting in areas within that stretch, Toczko said. The number of skimmers has also been doubled, hoping to collect more surface contamination.
Investigators said that nine toxins were detected from water samples near the ITC Deer Park ditch after multiple chemicals from the facility leaked into the Houston Ship Channel after a dike wall collapsed Friday.
Brent Weber, ITC Deer Park incident commander, said the material that leaked through the breached dike wall contained benzene, Pygas, water and foam.
The Houston Ship Channel remains partially closed because of the elevated levels of benzene.
Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It is also a known carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia and other blood cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.
Pyrolysis gasoline, known in the industry as "Pygas," is a byproduct of a chemical process involving naphtha.
The foam was used to fight the chemical fire at ITC Deer Park. It was used to create a seal over the chemicals to block the fumes from escaping. During the battle against the blaze, the already deployed and contaminated foam was sitting on the floor of the chemical storage facility. That foam is what leaked out into the ditch, officials said.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality collected water samples from the ITC ditch and found that the nine toxic substances exceeded its health-protective concentration level.
“Nine constituents in the samples tested thus far exceeded their health-protective concentration level, including total xylenes, pyrene, anthracene, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, phenanthrene, fluoranthene, and 2-methylnaphthalene," according to the TCEQ.
Toczko said there is no clear timeline to reopen the ship channel, but said crews are continuing to monitor the levels of toxic product in the air and in the water.
As of Sunday morning, there is no word if Deer Park Independent School District will open for school on Monday. According to the school's website,
“When it’s time for children to safely return to school, buildings will be ready for them. Our maintenance team members are working this weekend to address the following needs:
- Team members are replacing school air filters. They have already been replaced at San Jacinto Elementary, Deer Park High School-North Campus, and Deer Park Junior High. Crews are currently working at the Deepwater-area schools.
- Maintenance team members are also washing down playground equipment to make it clean and safe for students when they return.
- Maintenance employees are also walking school grounds to identify additional needs.
- Air systems will be activated prior to students returning so that stagnant air can cycle through the air handlers, eliminating odors and refreshing the air inside the buildings.”