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Cleanup Continues Four Months After Petrochemical Fire Outside Houston

Florian Martin
Houston Public Media
Smoke rises from a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park in March.

The cleanup of millions of gallons of waste and polluted water is far from over four months after a large fire burned for days at a Houston-area petrochemical storage site.

Intercontinental Terminals Company, the facility's owner, must abide by a 31-page management plan that dictates how waste must be sampled and identified, stored and discarded, the Houston Chronicle reported.

RELATED | 3 Proposals To Help Avoid The Next Deer Park Chemical Plant Fire

The detailed plan orders how the waste is transported and where it can go. But specific information regarding the status of the work at the Deer Park facility and where the waste will end up are difficult to find.

"Hazardous waste laws are so demanding. If you are trying to dispose of hazardous waste, you have to send it to a facility that has all sorts of protections to avoid contamination," said Rena Steinzor, a professor at the University of Maryland Law school. "That is why companies should be more careful of disposing their waste, and the real question is why they are not?"

The March 17 fire in Deer Park, about 20 miles southeast of Houston, caused no injuries but triggered air quality warnings. More than 21 million gallons of potentially hazardous waste and contaminated water have since been collected from the tank farm and Houston Ship Channel.

It is all considered to be dangerous until tested and determined otherwise.

"One of the problems is that xylenes continue to vaporize from the water unless removed," said Jack Matson, professor emeritus of environmental engineering at Penn State University. "A boom across the impacted area will not prevent continued volatilization, and some of the chemicals are dissolved and enter the ship channel."

The Harris County District Attorney's Office filed water pollution charges in April against Intercontinental Terminals Company, alleging the fire caused chemicals to flow into a nearby waterway.

The Deer Park chemical fire was the first of two in the Houston-area in as many weeks. The second chemical fire happened in April at a plant in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston. One worker died and two others were critically injured.

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