Strange odor in Houston not related to LyondellBasell facility, officials say

HOUSTON - The strange odor that swept through the heart of Houston on Monday morning is no longer believed to be related to an incident at a facility in Channelview, according to officials.

The sulfur-like smell was first reported about 10 a.m. in the downtown area of Houston and spread west along the Interstate 10 corridor.

"We never really had a concern because our air quality monitoring never showed it was a public health issue, but we are still monitoring cause it was definitely a cause for concern, and we're still trying to identify the source," said Houston Fire Department Captain Ruy Lozano.

Officials at the Houston Fire Department originally reported that the odor was related to a chemical release the LyondellBasell facility, 15 miles east of the city.

However, a statement from LyondellBasell reported there was a release of oil from a piece of equipment used to control temperature. That oil was contained and never traveled offsite, according to the statement.

“We understand there are reports of an odor around downtown Houston,” the company said in a statement. “At this time, it does not appear that the events are connected.”

Houston firefighters later confirmed that the smell is not related to the incident at LydondellBasell. They said investigators are still trying to determine where the odor originated.

While it is still unclear where the odor came from, officials assured the public that it is not hazardous.

“Air quality monitors do not indicated the presence of hazardous chemicals,” a message from the Harris County Office of Emergency Management said. “However, Houstonians may want to avoid traveling through the affected area until the smell has dissipated.”

The Katy Independent School District said outdoor activities at its campuses were restricted because of the odor.

"This message is to inform you that Katy ISD campuses are taking precautionary action in response to an environmental occurrence in the area,” officials said in a statement. “It's being reported by media outlets that a chemical odor may have been released by a Channelview chemical plant. As a result, all campuses will be restricting outdoor activities until we learn more law enforcement and environmental agencies monitoring the situation. Thank you for your patience, support and partnership in helping to keep our students safe."

By 2:10 p.m., officials said the restriction had been lifted.

Strong east winds are believed to have pushed the smell west into the city. A low ceiling, or cloud level, also helped trap the odor near the ground.

Officials were also looking at the Albemarle plant near Pasadena because the company issued an alert at 8:30 Monday morning saying the public would notice the smell of a gas odorizer being released from several natural gas service stations.

But late Monday, the company issued a statement denying being the source of the smell.

Here's their statement:

"On Monday, February 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m., Albemarle began work on natural gas stations at our Bayport facility located at 13000 Bay Park Rd, Pasadena, TX. This work did not result in the odor that was present in the Houston area today.

This routine maintenance has had no offsite impact. There is no danger to our community or our workers arising from the work performed at our facility."

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