Federal report finds ITC didn't have important alert system in place


HOUSTON – The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has released a report into the ITC Fire and has identified issues that show the company did not have a critical safety alert system in place. 

The board's "Factual Update" into the Deer Park fire, which started on March 17, found the following:

- ITC did not equip the Tank 80-8 piping manifold with emergency or remotely operated isolation valves. These valves could have stopped an uncontrolled release, if for example, the pump or piping manifold were damaged.

- The tank farm was not equipped with a fixed gas detection system, so no alarms were activated to warn ITC personnel of a release. The reduction in tank level and volume that occurred as naphtha product released from Tank 80-8 did not trigger any alarms in the ITC control room. As a result, ITC personnel were unaware of the naphtha product release before the fire erupted.

CSB is an independent federal agency who says its mission is to "drive chemical safety change through independent investigations to protect people and the environment."

What's next?

The CSB said component from the Tank 80-8 piping manifold were taken to a secure storage facility, where they completed an initial visual inspection of the piping and pump. They said further testing will be conducted.

Going forward, the CSB plans to identify potential naphtha product release points and ignition sources, determine why the naphtha product release was not detected prior to ignition and why the release was not isolated post-fire. 

A final report will be published at the end of their investigation.

The background

The ITC started on March 17 and spread throughout the facility, engulfing nine of the 15 tanks in the area. It was put out around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Nearly 12 hours later, the fire reignited, sending a fireball into the air. Crews were able to put the fire out quickly, but the incident was far from over.

Five days after the fire was initially put out and crews had started pumping the chemicals out of the remaining tanks, benzene – a known carcinogen – was detected in the air, prompting more school closures and another shelter-in-place order.

On the sixth day after the initial fire, just as ITC officials were starting to seem hopeful that the situation was going in the right direction, the facility suffered a break in a dike wall near the incinerated tanks.

Hours after the break, two tanks and chemical runoff in a ditch caught fire, sending yet another plume of smoke over the Deer Park area.

About a week after the initial fire, reports of several toxins found in the water near ITC prompted officials to close the ship channel.