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Houston Ship Channel Reopens As Cleanup Continues At Deer Park Petrochemical Facility

Florian Martin
Houston Public Media
A plume of smoke from the ITC facility fire in Deer Park last Friday.

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 cleanup continues at the Deer Park petrochemical facility that sustained a massive fire last week.

"All vessels that transit in and out of any affected area will be visually inspected," Coast Guard Cpt. Rich Howes said at a morning news conference. He said the agency will fully reopen traffic when it's sure there's no contamination.

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

Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) said Wednesday it is making progress in the cleanup process.

Brent Weber, who is acting as the company's incident commander, said the last of the pygas tanks is secure.

"That's an important milestone for the remediation efforts," Weber said. Pyrolysis gasoline contains benzene, a chemical the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to cancer.

He said ITC responders have seen "an improvement in air quality data around the affected area and in our surrounding communities."

Cleanup Wednesday was concentrated on product removal from the tank farm. Responders are pumping a tank containing toluene, a hydrocarbon used for manufacturing industrial chemicals.

Weber said ITC is making plans to enter the 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 agency is monitoring air 24 hours a day in the area. He said it hasn'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," Adams said. 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 readings made 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 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 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 and said "from the onset of the fire, you know, ITC, ERT members responded immediately."

The company has received about 500 written claims and 2,500 calls to its claims hotline.


From Houston Public Media

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