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ITC Deer Park Plant Fire Finally Extinguished, Cause Remains Under Investigation


The massive tank fire at the ITC Deer Park petrochemical storage facility was finally extinguished earlier this morning, nearly four days after it began driving a thick plume of black smoke over the nation’s fourth-largest city.

ITC Deer Park Petrochemical Plant Fire Erupted on St. Patrick’s Day

The ITC Deer Park plant fire had been burning since St. Patrick’s Day morning, when two tanks ignited on the 265-acre site just 15 miles southeast of Houston, Texas. The flames quickly spread to several more, before intensifying Monday night.

Four storage tanks were still ablaze Tuesday evening, when a massive fireball arose from the site. By that time, however, firefighting efforts had moved into an offensive mode, with crews attacking the inferno tank-by-tank.

“As of 3 a.m. today the firefighting crews on the scene of the ITC Tank Farm Fire are reporting that all tank fires have been extinguished,” the company announced in a statement released on Wednesday.

Steam and smoke will continue to rise from the Deer Park terminal for an indeterminate period of time. Because reignition is still possible, crews will be spraying foam and water on the affected tanks to facilitate cooling.

Overheating Chemical Tank May Have Sparked ITC Deer Park Fire

The cause of the ITC Deer Park plant fire remains under investigation.

According to The Houston Chronicle, one worker apparently noticed smoke coming from a chemical storage tank Sunday morning, suggesting it may have been overheating. Within 30 minutes, the fire “was roaring up.”

While petrochemical storage tanks can overheat, a safety mechanism will usually shut a tank down when this occurs. For whatever reason, that mechanism may not have been enough to prevent the Deer Park disaster.

Deer Park Fire Environmental and Health Impacts Remain Unclear

The ITC Deer Park petrochemical plant houses 242 storage tanks. Those involved in the St. Patrick’s Day fire contained chemicals used to manufacture gasoline, including xylene, naphtha, and toluene.

On Tuesday, ITC acknowledged that the fire had allowed chemicals to wash into the adjacent Houston Ship Channel, which links the Gulf of Mexico to Houston. So far, it’s not clear if any had made their way into the bay.

Since Sunday, plant workers and Houston residents have also been reporting breathing problems, itchy eyes, burning throats, headaches, nose bleeds, and other symptoms consistent with respiratory exposure to any one of those chemicals.

Xylene, toluene and naphtha can also cause a number of long-term health problems, including cancer, brain and central nervous system damage, and liver and kidney problems.

Although the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains that the air quality throughout the Houston Metro Region remains safe, officials also advised children, the elderly, and other “sensitive populations” to avoid going outdoors and remain in air-conditioned buildings.

ITC Apologizes for Deer Park Plant Fire

During a Tuesday morning news conference, an ITC spokesperson apologized for the disaster.

“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,” she said.

ITC is also asking anyone who suffered injuries or losses in connection with the Deer Park fire to sign a Claim Form and participate in its recently-announced compensation program.

Unfortunately, Page 4 of the Form indicates that anyone who receives compensation from ITC waives their rights to recover their medical expenses, lost wages, or any other damages that they’ve suffered as a result of the fire.

That means anyone who accepts $1 or more through ITC’s “claims process” is PERMANENTLY BARRED from later filing a lawsuit to hold the company responsible for serious (or even fatal) medical conditions that develop in the future, including cancer and chronic respiratory distress.

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