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Over 50 vessels waiting to enter Houston Ship Channel as cleanup continues

The aftermath of a chemical fire at a facility in Deer Park, Texas, is seen from the air on March 20, 2019.
The aftermath of a chemical fire at a facility in Deer Park, Texas, is seen from the air on March 20, 2019. (KPRC)

DEER PARK, Texas – More than 50 vessels were waiting to enter the Houston Ship Channel on Monday as cleanup of a fire and subsequent spill at a Deer Park chemical facility continued.

Capt. Rich Howes, of the U.S. Coast Guard, said about 20 ships were able to be moved through the channel Sunday under the daytime-traffic-only restrictions that are in place. Three of those vessels required minor cleaning after moving through some of the chemicals that were spilled into the water during the weeklong fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. facility in Deer Park last month.

Howes said he is hopeful that another 20 or so ships will be able to move through the channel Monday.

Adam Adams, of the Environmental Protection Agency, said crews are using 120,000 feet of boom and more than 130 craft to clean up the oily water mixture that has been seen in the water. Most of that mixture is confined to Tuckers Bayou.

Howes said about 2.5 million gallons of the mixture has been removed from the water, and crews will begin to concentrate Monday on cleanup in the Tuckers and Carpenters bayous and the Old River area.

Brent Weber, ITC’s incident commander, said the removed mixture is being stored in tanks at the company’s facility and more tanks are being made available to store even more of the oily mix.

Adams said crews are also working to rescue animals that are caught in the contaminated areas. He said a total of 10 birds have been rescued. He said a dead dolphin and a stranded dolphin were investigated by an animal group and it was determined that the mammals were not affected by the ITC incident. A total of two turtles, eight birds and nine fish have died as a result of the fallout from the fire.

Weber said a pumping problem Sunday allowed the tank farm to begin filling with product, which led to an increase in benzene levels and a shelter-in-place order for neighboring businesses. 

Adams described the increased benzene readings as a “blip” that was not sustained. He said air quality monitoring efforts from both land and air continue as crews work to secure the product that remains in three of the 15 tanks.

Weber said crews will enter the tank farm Monday and work to remove the product from tanks 80-5, 80-6 and 80-8.


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