Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), whose Deer Park refinery tanks caught fire last month in an accident that shut down local schools and the Houston Ship Channel for days, has been hit with five environmental criminal charges by the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
DA Kim Ogg announced the measure, saying in a news release that “People living in Deer Park and the other neighboring residential areas near ITC’s plant deserve protection too. When public health is at risk, it’s a public safety concern.”
Michael Goldberg, an attorney with Baker Botts representing ITC, released this statement in response: "Although we have not seen the charges, there is no question that there was a large fire and an enormous effort to extinguish it which resulted in a discharge into Tucker Bayou."
The discharge he was referring to included the toxic chemicals xylene and benzene and occurred after an ITC dike broke. Tucker Bayou ties into Galveston Bay so the assumption is that some of the chemicals may have made it that far.
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"The Environmental Crimes Division’s review of the evidence demonstrates that the water pollution in Tucker Bayou was at criminal levels from March 17 through March 21, establishing probable cause to believe that the company should be criminally charged for each day it violated the law, the news release said.
Environmental Crimes Division Chief prosecutor Alex Forrest called it a clear case of water pollution. “We are looking forward to reviewing the reports of other local and federal agencies, as they complete their investigations, so that we can determine if other charges will follow.”
According to the DA's office, ITC could face a fine of up to $100,000 per each of the five charges filed.
Harris County Commissioners Court voted in late March to sue ITC for the fire and chemical spill, seeking to recover all of its costs in helping to contain the aftermath effects of the accident. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan sued ITC alleging violations of the Clear Air Act and violating state law and county regulations about industrial waste.