Petrochemical cleanup continues; Houston Ship Channel closed |

Petrochemical cleanup continues; Houston Ship Channel closed

Associated Press
Houston Chronicle
The petrochemical fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company reignited as crews tried to clean out the chemicals that remained in the tanks, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. The efforts to clean up a Texas industrial plant that burned for several days this week were hamstrung Friday by a briefly reignited fire and a breach that led to chemicals spilling into the nearby Houston Ship Channel.
Houston Chronicle
Jessica Leija holds up her hand to ask a question as Bill Ogden, a lawyer with Farrar & Ball, talks to a crowd of Deer Park residents Saturday, March 23, 2019, outside where he and Chance McMillan, founding partner of the McMillan Law Firm, were suppose to host a town hall-style meeting about the legal ramifications stemming from the recent ITC fire, in Deer Park, Texas. The crowd was too large to accommodate inside.
Houston Chronicle
In a Wednesday, March 20, 2019 photo, maritime traffic moves through the Houston Ship Chanel past the site of now-extinguished petrochemical tank fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, Texas. Air quality and water pollution from the fire’s runoff, seen on the right, into the ship channel are some of the concerns in the aftermath of the blaze.
Jeffrey Fountain
In this Tuesday, March 19, 2019 photo, shows smoke rising from a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company near the Carpenter Elementary School in Deer Park, Texas. Officials have lifted an order to remain indoors after several readings showed that the air quality had improved near a scorched petrochemical storage facility in suburban Houston. City officials in Deer Park lifted the order Thursday and reopened roads around the Intercontinental Terminals Company. But residents living near ITC say they’re skeptical of what public officials are telling them.

HOUSTON — An emergency dike has been repaired and a fire-damaged petrochemical tank stabilized during cleanup of leaking oil products that closed part of the Houston Ship Channel, the operator of the complex said Sunday.

Authorities are still trying to determine what caused a fire on March 17 at Intercontinental Terminals Company’s Deer Park facility, which left several petrochemical tanks damaged or destroyed.

Some tanks leaked oil products and a containment area was breached Friday, leading to the mixture reaching the ship channel, said Brent Weber, an ITC spokesman. The channel — one of the busiest commercial waterways in the country — was closed to traffic that day.

Weber said the berm was fixed by Sunday.

At least 52 vessels are waiting for the waterway to reopen, and the U.S. Coast Guard hopes to reopen the entire Houston Ship Channel by Monday morning, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker said.

The massive fire more than a week ago thrust plumes of black smoke into the air and burned on and off for days. Harris County and ITC officials initially said air quality was not affected by the blaze, but by Thursday the National Guard was called in and residents were warned to stay inside for their own safety because of high levels of benzene in the air.

The chemical evaporates quickly and can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and headaches, with worse symptoms at higher levels of exposure.

Weber said Sunday that the company had been concerned about the possibility of benzene fumes escaping one tank damaged in the fire that contained pyrolysis gasoline. Starting Saturday, officials were pumping the flammable gas out of the tank to reduce that risk. That container has been secured and air monitoring continues, Weber said.

“We are in a safe place as far as protecting our responders and protecting the community,” Weber told a news conference Sunday morning. He didn’t elaborate.

Company officials say no pyrolysis gas leaked from the tank into the water.

A statement Sunday from Harris County Public Health said there continues to be a low health risk to the general public.

Some tanks were significantly damaged while others have very little product left in them, Weber said. Crews will be going through each tank to remove any leftover product.

Oil products could be seen along a 2-mile stretch of the waterway, according to Lt. Cmdr. Jarod Toczko, another Coast Guard spokesman. Most of the product reached a bayou but oil booms were helping to protect the area.

“The majority of the product is contained with booms,” Toczko said.

About 60,000 gallons of oil product had been recovered from the water by Sunday, he said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday that ITC has a history of environmental violations and filed a lawsuit against the company, vowing to hold it “accountable for the damage it has done to our environment.”

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