ITC Deer Park fire update: Harris County officials discuss environmental monitoring, enforcement efforts since 2019 incident

Thursday afternoon, Harris County officials provided an update on the county’s environmental monitoring and protection efforts since the 2019 ITC Deer Park fire.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, as well as other county officials and representatives from a research nonprofit and private industry spoke at the briefing.

Watch the entire briefing in the video below.

The fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company Deer Park petrochemical facility began on Sunday, March 17, 2019 and blazed on for days, with officials reporting it was “under control” on March 23, 2019.

In its final report on the incident, released in December 2019, Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that the fire was “likely caused by a failure within the manifold power frame of Tank 80-8,” and ruled that the fire was accidental.

In the wake of the fire, Harris County officials undertook several steps to improve the county’s environmental monitoring and enforcement efforts.

$11 million was allocated towards improving the county’s preparedness and response to chemical incidents, county officials stated in a release. The county also added emergency response workers, chemists and field investigators to its pollution control department, and doubled the size of the County HazMat team. To hold polluters accountable, the county increased its capacity to pursue legal actions.

Following the findings of a gap analysis, Hidalgo also directed agencies to improve monitoring and information sharing.

Most recently, a partnership between Harris County, the research nonprofit Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), and private industry will add five air monitors to the county’s existing fixed, 24/7 air monitoring network and dozens of handheld air monitors for emergency response.

Altogether, these steps represent the county’s biggest investments in environmental protection in more than 30 years, officials stated in the release.

“We are committed to addressing the root causes of repeated incidents that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations who live in the shadow of industry,” Hidalgo said. “All families, regardless of zip code, should be able to raise their children without fear of explosions and the spillover effect of poor air quality. The steps we’ve taken are charting the course for long-overdue change, but it will take a sustained effort of working together, across disciplines and industries, to reverse the damage of decades of underinvestment.”

FINAL REPORT: ITC Deer Park fire was accidental, caused by failure in manifold of tank

About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.