The U.S. Coast Guard stepped up its efforts to reopen the Houston Ship Channel Sunday, by tripling the length of its booms as it worked to capture more of the chemical toxins released in the March 22 containment wall breach that followed the March 17 ITC tank farm fire.
Lt. Commander Jarod Toczko spoke about what the Coast Guard's had accomplished and what it planned to do next at a morning press conference. "The area impacted within the Houston Ship Channel is about a two nautical mile span. The majority of product is contained. We've got pockets of oil collecting in other locations along the two-mile span."
He said that more than 40 vessels were out in the Ship Channel since Saturday "actively skimming ...trying to recover oil. Our focus today in addition to the continued cleanup is to look at options for potentially reopening the Ship Channel. Our plan right now is to send a test vessel, a light draft vessel, through the Ship Channel from Galveston."
School resumed Monday for Deer Park ISD students after being cancelled four days last week. The jury is still out on whether or not an attendance waiver will be issued for the missed time. Deer Park ISD is in conversation with the Texas Education Agency and said they’ll have an answer later in the week. Because the school year is measured in minutes, in the event a waiver is not issued, it’s up to the district how they’ll make up the time. Likely scenarios include extending days, adding additional days, or using “bad weather” or staff development days already written into the calendar.
ITC officials were able to report that they had successfully pumped out most of tank 80-7, repaired the ruptured containment wall and most of all — had no new bad news to deliver.
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Benzene, water, foam and pygas (more formally known as pyrolysis gasoline) were included in the material that leaked out from the ITC facility, said ITC Deer Park incident commander Brent Weber. "So today's focus, the next 24 hours, the unified command's objectives are pretty simple: Continue the product removal process — that includes the additional tanks and the tank farm containment — continue remediating the ditches and the impacted area within the ITC property line and the [nearby] property area."
"We have removed all the product that we can from 80-7 and we have applied a good foam layer on top of that tank so that tank is very secure," Weber said. "We've significantly reduced the risk impact and the risk profile inside of that tank farm," he said.
By 2 a.m. Sunday, "crews had removed 12,647 barrels of the product," and the level of chemical product in the tank farm's secondary containment was down from two feet on Saturday morning to two inches on Sunday morning.
As the clean-up continues, the cause of the original fire remains unknown.