Chemical Leak Triggered Days-Long ITC Deer Park Tank Fire Near Houston, Texas

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Federal investigators believe a chemical leak triggered a massive tank fire at the ITC Deer Park Petrochemical plant near Houston, Texas earlier this year.

ITC Deer Park Fire Sickened Hundreds in Houston Metro Region

The ITC Deer Park tank fire erupted on the morning of March 17, 2019, and continued to burn for nearly a week, polluting the skies above Houston with a thick plume of black smoke and forcing many residents of the nation’s fourth-largest metro region to shelter-in-place for days.

While no plant workers were injured or killed in the incident, hundreds of people throughout the area sought medical attention for sore throats, headaches, nose bleeds, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms likely related to the toxic hydrocarbons released by the inferno.

ITC Deer Park Lacked Emergency Shut-Off Valves, Alarms

According to a Factual Update published yesterday, it appears the blaze ignited in piping located next to an 80,000-barrel tank filled with highly-flammable naphtha. A pump connected to the piping was left running the night before, so workers could mix the naphtha with another fuel and prepare it for export on St. Patrick’s Day.  While it’s not clear what caused the chemical to leak, investigators speculated that a faulty valve or the running pump might have been to blame.

They also noted the piping system was outfitted with manual shut-off valves, and lacked emergency or remote-operated valves that could have been used to staunch the leak. Once the fire erupted, “neither ITC operators nor emergency responders could access the area to close these manually operated values,” the investigators wrote.

To make matters worse, the ITC Deer Park tank farm was not equipped with a fixed gas detection system, so no alarms were activated. “As a result, ITC personnel were unaware of the naphtha product release before the fire erupted,” the report states.

Houston Metro Has Endured 4 Major Petrochemical Fires this Year

The ITC Deer Park tank fire was the second of four major petrochemical fires to strike the Houston Metro Region this year.

The series of disasters began on March 16th, when a furnace fire erupted at the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. While that incident “resulted in emissions to the atmosphere,” those living near the refinery were not ordered to shelter-in-place.

Less than three weeks later, an explosion and fire at the KMCO chemical plant in Crosby killed one worker and critically injured two others.

Most recently, on July 31st, a fire broke out at the ExxonMobil Olefins plant in Baytown. More than five dozen workers were taken to area hospitals following that incident, including 41 who were treated for burns and other injuries.

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