Fires in two oil facilities in East Harris County the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day took the shine off the green. Saturday there was a fire at the Baytown Exxon Olefines Plant and St. Patrick’s Day was the time of the origin of the fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park.
Baytown and Exxon firefighters and mutual aide rushed to 5000 Bayway Drive at about 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. All said and done, there was no shelter in place or evacuation called for there, and the fire was successfully contained without injury.
Sunday morning as many went to church a fire started near a chemical storage tank in Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s grounds in Deer Park. Firefighters struggled to contain the blaze to five tanks but when low water pressure occurred in the early hours of Monday, three other tanks caught fire. This cancelled authorities’ predictions of a rapid containment for the blaze.
The terminal is closed and evacuated, it stores gasoline additives and paint thinners. Some say these chemicals can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, headache and irritation to respiratory systems.
The Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ, and the Harris County Pollution Control are closely watching air quality. So far, all agencies are saying the dark black smoke blanketing the region isn’t as dangerous as it looks, even as plumes envelop the county.
In fact, in a statement released by Intercontinental Terminals Company spokesman David Wascome said “They actually flew a few planes through the plume the last few days and they are still within safe levels.”
Concerning the trust issue, in the last 10 years Intercontinental Terminals Company has had to pony up about $200,000 in fines for environmental violations.
Tuesday morning five tanks were still on fire and three were spent of fuel, some seven more tanks are nearby.
“This isn’t an event we wanted or planned. Many of my employees work in the city of Deer Park, they live in Deer Park, they’re out there fighting this fire the best they can,” stated ITC spokeswoman Alice Richardson, “They are residents. I would guess that probably 30 percent live in Deer Park in La Porte. They’re concerned. Their families are concerned, so of course I.T.C. would apologize to any of them.”
Harris County Public Health in a statement released on Tuesday urged residents to check on relatives and neighbors who are elderly or have respiratory issues.
As the clouds rise rapidly risk to locals is diminished but in the event of rain or fog, the clouds may be brought lower and risk may increase.
Harris County Pct. 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia is urging private, state and federal agencies to work together and provide timely and accurate information to Harris County officials so that the public can be effectively informed about the current situation at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) Deer Park facility.
“It is imperative elected officials are being informed and receiving timely updates to make informed decisions. I’m frustrated with ITC’s commitment and management of the current situation,” said Commissioner Garcia.
TCEQ and Harris County have filed multiple violations against ITC in the past. According to the Houston Chronicle report, the facility has been fined for violating clean air and clean water rules multiple times since 2009 and was cited for not following federal risk management regulations.
“Air quality is a top concern and I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep the public safe and informed,” Commissioner Garcia said.
Harris County Pollution Control has been on the ground monitoring the situation and will continue to do so for the next coming days, according to Harris County Judge and OEM head, Line Hidalgo.