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Energy & Environment

Environmental Advocates Demand Public Input On ITC Disaster Response

They protested a state committee hearing that only included invited testimony from officials.

Florian Martin/Houston Public Media
The fire as seen from the ITC facility in Pasadena.

Environmental advocates rallied at the state capitol Friday to protest lawmakers' response to the massive fire that broke out at an ITC petrochemical facility in Deer Park.

The Texas House Committees on Environmental Regulation and Homeland Security & Public Safety met Friday to hear from officials about the fire, but activists said they should have also let the public speak.

Fort Bend County Democrat Ron Reynolds, who serves on the Environmental Regulation committee, joined protesters to call for public input. He said he has serious concerns that the state's environmental oversight agency seems to be enabling pollution from companies like ITC.

"It's been documented that they have repeated violations of air and water pollution standards, and yet they have a satisfactory rating with TCEQ," Reynolds said. "To me, that's unacceptable."

Reynolds told protesters the response to the ITC disaster would continue beyond Friday's hearing.

"This is just the beginning," he said. "We're going to make sure that the next public hearing, we do have public testimony."

Organizers from Alliance for a Clean Texas, Air Alliance Houston, Texas Sierra Club and Public Citizen held the rally shortly before the hearing began.

Community advocate Bryan Parras outlined policy recommendations that should be implemented in response to the fire and its aftermath.

  • The benzene alert levels should be lowered and the information should be communicated to residents in real time.
  • Evacuations should occur if levels of benzene exceed 100 parts per billion.
  • First responders and workers near the site should be in full protective gear.
  • The state and federal government should create a registry of individuals who have been affected by exposures to the emissions.
  • Disposal options for the contamination should be carefully examined.

At a Texas Senate committee hearing on Thursday, TCEQ director Toby Baker told lawmakers there are ongoing environmental impacts from the disaster and a risk of fire as crews clean up the site.

"Those benzene spikes on site were at levels where the first responders are still having to wear respirators out of an abundance of caution from benzene levels — but also the possibility of a fire,” Baker said.

To make emergency information available faster after industrial accidents, Baker said regulators need more air quality monitoring gear and technology.

On Monday, ITC said in a statement that they are continuing to monitor air quality in the area. "The response team continues to see brief, periodic fluctuations in benzene readings within a two-mile radius of the immediate vicinity around ITC Deer Park incident site as it continues product removal activities,” the statement said. “As of 12:00 p.m. Monday, no residential areas have been affected.”

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