Holding tanks in a petrochemical terminal facility in Deer Park, Texas caught fire earlier this week. The facility is owned and operated by Texas-based petrochemical transportation and storage company Intercontinental Terminals Company or ITC.
According to multiple reports, the fire began in a single petrochemical holding tank which was storing products used to make gasoline. What began as a single tank fire soon spread, eventually igniting eight tanks all storing different types of petrochemicals. Residents of Deer Park and other local communities could see plumes of black smoke pouring from the ITC facility. Schools were shut down and many local businesses closed their doors during the emergency.
After four days of intense, raging fires, the flames were extinguished thanks to several fire companies, and the Channel Industries Mutual Aid, a non-profit that provides services related to “fire-fighting, rescue, hazardous materials handling and emergency medical [services to the] petrochemical industry in the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area”, according to their website. With the situation under control, the focus has shifted to investigating the cause of the fire and monitoring the potential health effects of the four-day blaze.
The Railroad Commission of Texas is monitoring air quality along with the EPA and ITC. As the tanks were filled with petrochemicals, many of which are potentially fatal if injected or inhaled in their natural state, there is the obvious concern of short and long-term effects of chemical smoke inhalation. A spokesperson for the RCT tried to ease any worry, stating that residents are “not at [an] elevated risk right now”.
Investigations into the cause of the fire have begun as well. Though some believe it was caused simply by a single tank overheating as a result of a failed safety mechanism, a thorough investigation will still happen. Depending on the catalyst, the results of the investigation could have legislative effects in Texas, strengthening the safeguards in place to assure that this is a onetime occurrence. Other states with natural gas, oil and petrochemical industry presence could potentially mimic any new legislation to prevent any similar catastrophic events in their own state.