Health concerns arise after Deer Park chemical fire

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

DEER PARK, Texas - After nearly four days of burning, a massive fire at the ITC chemical storage facility in Deer Park was declared out at 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Now, the ITC, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Coast Guard and Harris County are monitoring and conducting investigations to look into air, water and soil quality post-fire.

"We've been here continuously 24-hour operations," said EPA Region 6 spokesperson Adam Adams. "We've conducted air monitoring on the ground, around the vicinity of the site as well as downwind in the plume."

The EPA is monitoring areas as far as La Porte all the way to Katy. EPA representatives said there are no areas of concern in regard to air.

"We've not seen any hazardous concentration of the VOCs or the particulate matter throughout the plume -- through any of the data that's been provided," Adams said. "We've also conducted daily aerial assessments above the site. We're taking some water samples in the drainage path."

Sky2 flew over the waterways near ITC.

VIDEO: Aerials of runoff near Deer Park ITC tank farm

Some schools closed Wednesday due to concerns over health.

Shell in Deer Park also told its employees to shelter in place early Wednesday. A spokesperson stated:

"Shell Deer Park has detected low levels of benzene at our facility and as a result has enacted a shelter in place for certain areas within our site. Shell has global standards for permissible exposure limits, where Shell’s permissible exposure limits differ from OSHA exposure limits, Shell will follow the more stringent criteria. In this case, the chemical readings we are seeing are at or below the OSHA permissible exposure limits but above Shell HSSE standards requiring a shelter in place. Individuals in the community seeking more information on air quality should contact their local office of emergency management."

Shell lifted the shelter in place around 3 p.m. Wednesday. TCEQ representatives said there were higher levels of benzene around 6 a.m. Wednesday; however, they were not to levels of concern for short-term exposure of under an hour.

"Because fires are no longer burning up fuel sources in the tanks, TCEQ staff has observed hourly concentrations of benzene fluctuating in the vicinity of the ITC property. Vapor suppression activities are being conducted at the site," representatives with TCEQ stated. "Monitored levels of benzene have not reached a point of short-term health concern with a maximum of 66.6 parts per billion, recorded at a single air monitoring station at 6 a.m. Other monitors west of the fire have also measured increased readings of benzine of up to 14.9 ppb as of 10 a.m. TCEQ moved a temporary air monitoring station between the nearby neighborhood and the facility, and that station did not record any detectable levels of benzene as of 11 a.m. Short-term exposure to one-hour benzene concentrations below 180 ppb are not of health concern."

The TCEQ tweeted updated with its air quality and linked a website where people could monitor results on their own:

 

 

The Harris County Public Health Department said it, too, is monitoring air quality.

"After the successful extinguishing of the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) fire at the Deer Park facility, public safety continues to be our foremost concern. There will be continuous air monitoring as clean-up operations begin, and as the monitoring shows extended favorable conditions, the monitoring will focus closer to the incident site. This means increased monitoring around the facility for the type of chemicals involved in the incident itself. If there is any indication of a threat to public safety, there will be immediate notification from local emergency management officials," representatives with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's office stated.

Meanwhile, the TCEQ said a contractor is testing water samples at the Tucker Bayou to the Houston Ship Channel. Results won't come for 24 to 72 hours.

ITC said it will also wait on soil test samples to make sure the area is safe before investigating the cause of the massive tank fire.

"The cause of the fire is still unknown, but as soon as it is safe to get our personnel in the tank farm, we will begin a root cause investigation," Alice Richardson, ITC Deer Park Public Information Officer, said.

For more information on TCEQ's investigation on air and water quality, click here.

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