A fire broke out Sunday (March 17th) around 11 a.m. in two tanks at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC) Petrochemical plant In Deer Park, TX (near the Houston area). The two original tanks that caught fire contained NAPHTHA and XYLENE. Both of which are components in gasoline.
Exposure symptoms to NAPHTHA include headache, fatigue, poor concentration, emotional instability, impaired memory, and other intellectual functions. It can affect the respiration system and be irritating to the eyes.
XYLENE can be fatal if swallowed and cause skin irritation. Other symptoms could include symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
A third tank caught fire early Monday morning containing Toluene, used in items like nail polish remover, glue, and paint thinner. Exposure to this chemical can make people sick immediately or possibly cause health effects over time.
Early reports had said that the fire would only last until Wednesday but now officials are unsure.
A definitive timetable no longer exists, said Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen in a news confrence.
Two additional tanks caught fire overnight due to the water pressure dropping. It had been previously contained to just six tanks spread to eight by 2:30 a.m.
Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said his agency is closely monitoring the air quality. So, there is no need to worry, at least for now, it is good but that doesn't mean it won't change.
The chemical plant is closed and evacuated. The fire burned for nearly four days before finally being extinguished early Wednesday morning. Although there might still be a possibility of reigniting a release from the company said.
The company involved has had a history of environmental violations and has had to pay more than $200,000 in fines over the past decade.
It has violated several clean air and water acts many times since 2009, doing so in the last nine out of the past 12 quarters according to EPA data. The most recent fine being in July of 2017, when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality made the company pay $18,300 due to the release of cyanide in the San Jacinto River basin, which was more than 10 times the levels permitted.
And the fire at ITC is not the first time that this type of event has happened, but it needs to be the last.
In October of 1986, there was a major explosion, causing one death and injuring seven others as well as two fire trucks. Some of the workers at the time had been loading barrels of methyl tertiary butyl ether or MTBE on to a barge when it caught fire, which caused the explosion. This type of chemical is used in unleaded gasoline to help raise the oxygen content in it. About 13 thousand barrels were on board at the time. The fire went on for five days.
As someone who lives a few miles away from the area affected (and someone from a city that relies on these types of industries), I feel that there should be more safety measure put into place and while we are lucky that this time, no one was hurt. We may not be the next time.