Energy & Environment

Officials Confirm LyondellBasell Refinery Is The Source Of The Toxic Smell That Has Been Plaguing Galena Park For Days

For the past two days, residents have been reporting a strong, garlic-like chemical smell in Galena Park, with many saying they’ve been feeling nauseous and having headaches.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media

Chemical emissions from the LyondellBasell Refinery are the source of a pungent smell that has been bothering residents of Galena Park since Wednesday night, according to Harris County Pollution Control Services.

PCS said through its air monitoring in the area it has identified three chemicals that can cause irritation to the respiratory and digestive systems: carbon disulfide, dimethyl disulfide and methyl ethyl disulfide.

“Sensitive populations should limit outdoor time and use face coverings,” PCS said in a statement.

PCS said the cause of the odor has been capped and the smell should dissipate by later this evening.

Since Wednesday night, residents have been reporting headaches and nausea, with some describing it as a garlic-like, chemical smell.

Diana Gonzalez is among those who said the smell has been making her nauseous.

“The smell just got worse and worse. Yesterday was horrendous,” she said. “It was bad — to the point where I almost couldn’t handle it.”

Gonzalez said she tried everything she could think of to alleviate the odor: spraying Febreeze, putting Vapor Rub on her nose and turning off her window AC unit.

“A lot of us have been in Galena Park since we were born, and so we’ve had odors, but this is extreme,” she said.

Juan Flores, who lives in Galena Park and works with Air Alliance Houston, said he had a sore throat Thursday when the smell was strongest.

"What’s happened in the last 48 hours has just been beyond anything I’ve experienced before. It’s just such a strong odor," he said. "In some cases, it was so strong it felt like the source of it was my backyard."

In a statement to Houston Public Media, LyondellBasell said the odor was coming from a leak in the roof of one of their storage tanks that failed due to the heavy rains in the area.

“We understand that the material is odorous and community members may be able to detect a slight odor. Air monitoring demonstrated no levels of concern for the community,” the company said in a statement.

During Hurricane Harvey, at least 15 storage tank roofs failed from the heavy rainfall — and researchers warn that hundreds more are vulnerable.

A bill passed this legislative session will create some tougher standards for these storage tanks, though some advocates say it still doesn’t go far enough, particularly in addressing the impact of heavy rainfall on the tanks.

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