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Cleanup Continues At Deer Park Facility, Crews Laying Foam On Exposed Chemicals To Prevent Emissions

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo will instruct county departments to look for ways to improve future response to incidents of this kind.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality mobile units are used to monitor air quality near the Houston Ship Channel Saturday, March 23, 2019, in Houston. The efforts to clean up the Intercontinental Terminals Company petrochemical facility are ongoing and a portion of the channel remains closed.

The cleanup process continues at the Deer Park petrochemical storage facility that sustained a massive fire last week. Officials said Monday the latest air quality readings are satisfactory and water is being tested, while traffic on part of the Houston Ship Channel is still restricted. 

Representatives from Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), which owns the facility, gave an update of the situation on Monday morning. ITC executive Brent Weber said two tanks that still contain chemicals are being cleaned up. Another five tanks are empty and a sixth one isn’t dangerous because it only contains lubricating oil.

Weber said ITC’s goals for Monday are to continue cleaning up the tanks and making repairs on the ditches that have been damaged, including one located next to a containment wall that was partially breached on Friday afternoon. He said crews continue to lay foam on the entire area to make sure the fire will not reignite again, and to keep toxic vapors from escaping into the air.

Adam Adams, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said there haven’t been detections of dangerous chemicals through air monitoring in last 24 hours. “The results have been consistent: No detections from any of those responses in any of those monitoring efforts that warranted an alert notification to the unified command,” he said.

Besides the EPA, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Harris County and ITC are also monitoring air quality. The EPA is also testing water quality.

About 60,000 gallons of oil product had been recovered from the water by Sunday, according to the Coast Guard.

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

This section of the TCEQ’s website has updated information.

Ship Channel

Traffic on the Houston Ship Channel is restricted as the cleanup process goes on. U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kevin Oditt said that a tank ship successfully transited on Sunday through the impacted area to assess the impact and ensure there’s no visible oil.

A tank ship and a tank barge are scheduled to transit inbound and outbound on Monday. “They’ll be visually inspected,” Oditt said, “and if there’s any oil visible on the haul, they’ll be sent to a decontamination facility.”

The Coast Guard partially opened the section of San Jacinto River that connects with the ship channel on Sunday and Oditt said “overflights did not find any pollutants or any oil in the water.”

Two-way tow and barge traffic was opened on Monday on the river, but traffic on the Ship Channel will continue be restricted as the cleanup process is ongoing.

Schools are also getting back to normal and the Deer Park and Galena Park school districts, as well as other districts in the impacted area, resumed classes on Monday.

The TCEQ announced Friday it’s suing ITC for violations of the Texas Clean Air Act, and four La Porte residents have also filed litigation against the company. ITC spokeswoman Alice Richardson said the company has received 1,600 “claim inquiries” as of Friday. The company now has a website focused on the response efforts.

Hidalgo’s update

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo underscored during a news conference held Monday at 4:30 p.m. that the incident “is not over” because of the chemical clean-up still underway. She said the county’s Emergency Operations Center remains activated at level 3.

Hidalgo said she will direct the county’s pollution control and public health specialists “to identify additional capacity, including equipment and personnel” to improve the future response to incidents of this kind.

Hidalgo said she will also task a company specialized in industrial safety to conduct a risk assessment “and determine what other chemical plants might pose a risk.”

Asked about air and water quality, Hidalgo said the monitoring continues and, after coordination with the impacted municipalities, the conclusion is that there are no concerns about water quality at this moment. However, independent water sample tests performed by the Galveston Bay Foundation found a high level of benzene in at least one sample taken from the Houston Ship Channel on Saturday.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office has given ITC a subpoena and a preservation order to prevent the destruction of any evidence.

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Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz

Digital News Producer

Alvaro ‘Al’ Ortiz is originally from Madrid (Spain). He worked for several years in his home country and gained experience in all platforms of journalism, from wire services to print, as well as broadcast and digital reporting. In 2001, Al came to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree...

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