What are the legal ramifications after Deer Park chemical fire?

By Brittany Jeffers - Reporter, Cory McCord - Digital News Editor

DEER PARK, Texas - Channel 2 spoke with an environmental law professor to find out the legal ramifications of the Deer Park chemical fire.

Victor Flatt said lawsuits are possible from the state, public and potentially the county after a chemical fire burned for nearly three days at the Intercontinental Terminals Company location in Deer Park.

Flatt is an environmental law professor at the University of Houston. He thinks ITC could face a fine for violating its federal operating permit under the Clear Air Act for the unlawful use of chemicals.

"They should face a fine from TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) for an upset air emission. They're not permitted for that, right. And as we all saw, smoke billowing 4,000 feet into the air and that is contributing to a particulate problem in the atmosphere, and you can't (do) that without a permit," Flatt said.

On Wednesday, ITC officials apologized for the blaze that started burning Sunday around 10 a.m. Officials said the fire was officially out around 3 a.m. Wednesday, but an explosion happened around 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Another big question at this point: Is there going to be any liability to the general public?

“Dozens of response partners joined together after the fire began to protect the health and safety of Harris County residents,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “We will continue to monitor the site of the fire and conduct air quality testing until there is no longer any potential public health risk.”

So far, officials said air quality has remained in the “good” to “moderate” range. The sensors monitor for a range of indicators of potential threats to human and environmental health.

County officials said the Coast Guard, EPA, TCEQ, ITC and their contractor are monitoring potential impacts to the waters.

Flatt said nuisance lawsuits against ITC are a possibility if people had to evacuate or something was harmed. He also said Harris County could sue the company, depending on what actually caused the fire.

When Hidalgo was asked if the county plans on filing a lawsuit, she said that the investigation was ongoing and there will be accountability.

Flatt said he is unsure if ITC will be cited or fined for violating its accident prevention plan because it's still unclear how the fire started.

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