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Houston Ship Channel Reopens As Clean-Up At Deer Park Petrochemical Facility Continues

ITC plans to enter the tank farm containment area to be more “aggressive” in the remediation process.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is using mobile units to monitor air quality in Deer Park and its vicinity.

The U.S. Coast Guard has reopened traffic on the Houston Ship Channel, although it’s still restricted to daylight hours, as the clean-up at the Deer Park petrochemical facility that sustained a massive fire last week continues. “All vessels that transit in and out of any affected area will be visually inspected,” said Coast Guard Captain Rich Howes at a news conference held at 10 a.m. He added they will fully reopen traffic when they make sure there’s no contamination.

Howes said there were approximately 103 vessels waiting to enter the Channel. Generally, there are about 50 vessels waiting at a time.

Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) said Wednesday it keeps making progress in the clean-up process.

ITC executive Brent Weber, who is acting as the company’s incident commander, said that tank 80-10 is now secured. “That’s an important milestone for the remediation efforts because it was the last of the pygas tanks we were working to secure,” Weber said. Pyrolysis gasoline contains benzene, a dangerous chemical that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to cancer.

He said ITC responders who are monitoring air quality have seen “an improvement in air quality data around the affected area and in our surrounding communities.”

On Wednesday, the clean-up is still concentrated on product removal out of the tank farm. Responders are pumping tank 80-13, which contains toluene, a hydrocarbon that’s used for manufacturing industrial chemicals.

Weber said ITC is making plans to enter the tank farm containment area “to be more aggressive in our recovery and remediation efforts.”

Air quality monitoring

Adam Adams, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the EPA’s responders are monitoring air 24 hours a day in the area where the fire occurred and its vicinity. He said they haven’t detected any dangerous concentrations of chemicals “that warranted alert notifications.”

Adams said approximately 16,000 barrels of water mixed with product from the facility have been recovered from the Houston Ship Channel and the agency continues analyzing water samples.

He said Tucker Bayou has a big oil pocket. “That’s a significant one that we are focusing on,” said Adams. He added there are small pockets in other waterways and they move depending on the direction of the wind and the water currents.

As for impact on wildlife, Adams said 14 fish and one turtle have been found dead as of Tuesday near the ITC facility’s docks.

Anthony Buck, with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, also said there have been no dangerous levels recorded in the air quality monitoring, and benzene levels surrounding the site remain low. He said that readings made on Wednesday morning “show levels well below the actionable limit of 180 parts per billion.”

Buck said the incident hasn’t impacted drinking water systems in the affected area.

A section of the TCEQ’s website is focused on the recovery and environmental monitoring process. Harris County also has air quality information posted online.

Concerns about strong smells

During the news conference, Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton was asked about strong smells reported by some residents. He said the city is also monitoring the air “and there’s been nothing that’s even come close to registering any kind of action item.”

Weber also addressed the lawsuit filed by Harris County against ITC and said that “from the onset of the fire, you know, ITC, ERT members responded immediately.”

The company has received approximately 500 written claims and 2,500 calls to ITC’s claims hotline.

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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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