Cleanup underway after ship collides with barges in Houston Ship Channel

HOUSTON – Cleanup is underway after a ship crashed into two barges in the Houston Ship Channel on Friday.

Officials are working to determine how many barrels of products were released into the ship channel as a result but said crews are working to combat the spill. 

The crash involved a 755-foot tanker and a tug, which was carrying two barges. The barges were pushing roughly 25,000 barrels of reformate each, according to officials. One barge was capsized. Harris County officials said it is "unknown if the product is leaking." 

Reformate is a refined product that is blended with gasoline to boost octane to achieve levels needed for commercial sales.

It is an extremely flammable liquid and vapor and can be fatal if it is swallowed. Reformate is toxic to marine life.

The other barge was significantly damaged, releasing the product inside, according to officials.

"Our vessel, the Voyager, with two barges loaded with reformate, were struck by the ship Genesis River," said Jim Guidry, executive vice president of vessel operations at Kirby Inland Marine. "One of our barges has lost approximately 9,000 barrels of the blendstock reformate." 

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Officials said crews have deployed roughly 3,600 feet of boom to prevent the material from spreading farther into the water.

"We're working on putting an additional 12,000 feet of boom with 29 boats and 88 people in place in the priority one areas as identified by the area contingency plan, and we're working with another 8,700 feet of boom, 20 boats and 61 people to protect the other areas on the priority two list. So as we have resources, we're putting those resources out," Guidry said.

The United States Coast Guard said it will investigate the crash, adding that an investigation is already underway into what led up to the incident. 

The Galveston County Health District said its main priority is the health and safety of the community.

"A gasoline smell does not necessarily mean there is a health hazard or harmful particles in the air," Galveston County Health District officials stated in a release Saturday. "If you are experiencing the smell of gasoline and are concerned, it is recommended that you use your best judgment, stay inside and contact your healthcare provider."

"There are health hazards, which is why we're doing all the air monitoring, and we're making sure that the results are published to the public. Those levels have not shown levels above the action limit," Guidry said.

GCHD said symptoms may include coughing, difficulty breathing, headaches, nausea and dizziness. There may also be burning, irritation and redness of the skin, eyes, nose and throat.

Some members of the community may be more susceptible than others. The elderly, children, pregnant women and those with respiratory issues or weakened immune systems may be especially affected.

GCHD has established a hotline for health-related questions. If you’d like to speak to a representative, please call 409-938-7221.

Air monitoring is taking place throughout Galveston and Brazoria counties, officials said. 

The Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and a Port of Houston Fire Boat are conducting around-the-clock air monitoring in the communities west of the bay and in locations reported through the Air Monitoring hotline. Those areas include Seabrook, La Porte, El Lago, Pasadena, Clear Lake Shores, Friendswood, Pearland, League City, Texas City and Bacliff. 

"Tests have found no detectable concentrations of benzene, percentage Lower Explosive Limit, toluene, and xylene in the community," officials with Harris County stated Saturday

League City said air monitoring is being conducted by Bayport Channel Collision Reponse, which provided the report below

"Air monitoring performed under the Unified Command-approved plans indicate that petroleum-related compounds are not present at levels that would cause a health concern. Air monitoring results and details on the actionable levels being used by the Unified Command to evaluate real-time air monitoring data are provided in the Community Air Sampling and Analysis Plan, available at Bayport Response," officials with Unified Command stated. "There have been no reported impacts on wildlife at this time. Animal wildlife rehabilitation crews are standing by to respond if a report should occur."

The Houston Ship Channel is closed from Light 61 to Light 75. Additionally, a safety zone has closed Clear Creek Channel from the entrance to Clear Lake and extending east to Light 66 on the Houston Ship Channel and north, up to but not including the Bayport Ship Channel.

Numbers you need to know: 

A 24/7 hotline to report strong gasoline odors and waterway contamination: 281-757-3017

 A 24/7 claims hotline: 800-241-9010

GCHD hotline for health-related questions: 409-938-7221

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Air Monitoring Summary 1 May 10 2019 (PDF)
Air Monitoring Summary 1 May 10 2019 (Text)