ITC Deer Park Fire Cleanup Continues, Reignition a Threat
Clean-up activities are well underway at the ITC Deer Park petrochemical storage terminal, more than a week after a massive tank fire erupted at the facility just 15 miles southeast of Houston, Texas.
“I’m very, very optimistic in regards to the progress that’s being made,” Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton said during Monday Morning news conference. “I stand here today and tell you in assurance that safety to the public is priority number one.”
Fire Crews Using Foam to Prevent Flare-Ups
So far, air quality readings throughout the Houston Metro Area remain satisfactory, and water testing continues.
According to ITC, workers are removing hazardous chemicals from two tanks. Five are already empty, and a sixth poses no risk because it contains only lubricating oil.
There is still a chance that the fire could reignite. To prevent another flare-up, as well as the release of any more toxic emissions, fire crews will continue to spray foam on the entire site.
ITC Deer Park Fire Has Already Reignited Twice
The ITC Deer Park fire erupted on St. Patrick’s Day morning, and continued to burn for nearly four days.
Although firefighters managed to extinguish the inferno early on the morning of March 20th, it reignited twice last week. The most recent flare-up occurred on Friday, after a containment dike partially collapsed and allowed contaminants to escape from the ITC plant and flow into the Houston Ship Channel.
Although part of the Channel was closed on Friday, it has since reopened to daytime traffic. U.S. Coast Guard personnel will continue to inspect the hauls of ships for any contaminants.
Yesterday, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged people not to eat fish or crab from the Houston Ship Channel. A standing advisory recommends children and women of child-bearing age avoid anything caught in the channel, but this applies to everyone.
State of Texas, Harris County Take Legal Action Against ITC
Late Friday, the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit against ITC, alleging pollution released during the Deer Park petrochemical fire violated the federal Clean Air Act.
Harris County filed its own lawsuit earlier today, one day after serving ITC with a subpoena.
“When we allow companies like ITC to locate in our community, they have a responsibility to operate in a safe manner,” Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan said. “That’s why we have local and state regulations and laws to ensure that our residents are protected. Violations of those laws are unacceptable and we will work to ensure that they are enforced.”
In addition to civil penalties, the county’s lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order that would prevent ITC from reopening the Deer Park petrochemical terminal until a court-ordered third-party review determines it’s safe to resume operations.
Many Remain Anxious Over Health Impacts from ITC Deer Park Fire
The ITC Deer Park fire drove a miles-long cloud of smoke across much of the Houston Metro Region for several days.
During that time, over 1,000 people visited a single Harris County mobile clinic complaining of breathing problems, headaches, nose bleeds, vomiting, and other symptoms likely related to hazardous chemicals released in the blaze. An unknown number travelled to area hospitals on their own, or called paramedics to their homes.
According to ABC 13, many remain anxious about their own health, as well as the health of their loved ones.
“So, you have to wonder if there’s something out there that’s not being told, because they don’t want the public to know,” a woman said during a Monday night town hall in Pasadena.
ITC Compensation Program Bars Claims for Future Injuries & Losses
ITC has established a compensation program for individuals who suffered injuries or losses in connection with the Deer Park fire. The program’s hotline has so far received around 2,000 calls, while roughly 300 claims have actually been filed.
As Ryan Zehl recently noted, however, anyone accepting compensation through this program would be PERMANENTLY BARRED from later filing a lawsuit to hold ITC responsible for any serious (or even fatal) medical conditions that develop in the future, including cancer and chronic respiratory distress.
“What happens if you accept $1,000 because that covers your medical bills today, but then in three months from now you’re diagnosed with Leukemia?” he asked during an interview with ABC 13.
Mr. Zehl suggested that anyone experiencing symptoms related to the Deer Park fire should see a doctor first, then seek legal advice before they agree to participate in the ITC compensation program.
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia apparently had similar thoughts during Monday evening’s town hall in Pasadena.
“My personal advice (for residents) is don’t sign any ITC form until they speak to their individual attorneys,” he told ABC 13.
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