ITC Defends its Safety Levels, Says Fire at Plant Probably Caused By a Leak

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As the fires at its Deer Park plant continued to burn Monday afternoon, Intercontinental Terminals Company  called a press conference to announce that an environmental assessment in air quality tests done today showed "all detections were below levels that would represent a health concern."

That, of course, was in direct response to the potential dangers involved in someone being exposed to the chemicals (Naptha and Xylene) from the fire that started Sunday and spread from tank to tank as it sent billowing clouds of black smoke into the air. 

The assessment was done by the Center For Toxicology and Environmental Health, an independent crisis management and consulting firm, that works with businesses to prevent and deal with environmental hazards. 

ITC spokeswoman Alice Richardson said that while it was originally thought eight tanks were involved it was actually only six. "One of the tanks was falsely reported it was on fire,” said David Wascome, ITC senior vice president of Operations.

"The manifold around it flashed up so they thought it was on fire but the tank itself was not on fire," Richardson said. "The other tank was an empty tank.

The fires were still burning Monday.
The fires were still burning Monday.
Photo by Kate McLean

“We’ve made some headway in that three of the tanks are still on fire and three are intermittent,” she added.
While the cause of the fire is still under review, it is believed  to have started due to a leak that occurred at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

According to the ITC statement: "Emergency responders continue to work with foam and water to control and prevent the fire from spreading. We continue to take precautions to further reduce the risk of explosion. All personnel are accounted for and there have been no injuries reported as a result of this incident."

Each tank holds about 2.5 million gallons and so far, 3 million pounds of chemicals have been released into the air, she said.

The Houston Chronicle has reported that ITC has been cited and fined repeatedly for violations of air and water quality laws by state and federal authorities.

In response to a question about that at the press conference, Wascome said he needed to look into that adding, “We continue to watch the air quality in and around the area, as of right now everything is still within acceptable levels.”

Some companies in the area have called off work, as people are advised to stay indoors. La Porte ISD and Deer Park ISD cancelled classes, while Pasadena ISD did not cancel , according to ABC 13 News.

A press release from the Harris County Public Health Department Sunday evening said that exposure to the smoke may cause, “coughing, difficulty breathing, irritation, redness to eyes, headaches, nausea or dizziness.” The elderly, children and those with respiratory issues are advised to seek medical attention if symptoms occur or get worse.

ITC plans to hold another press conference Tuesday at 10 a.m.

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