Eight chemical storage tanks burning near Deer Park

A shelter-in-place for the Deer Park area has been lifted, but La Porte ISD and Deer Park ISD have canceled classes for the day.

Eight chemical storage tanks burning near Deer Park
Source: KHOU 11

Author: Doug Delony, Chloe Alexander, Brandon Scott | Published: 10:53 AM CDT March 17, 2019 | Updated: 8:42 AM CDT March 18, 2019

DEER PARK, Texas — A large fire at Intercontinental Terminals Company in La Porte continued to burn overnight into Monday morning, spreading to an additional six tanks, a company update says.

As of the company’s latest update a total of eight tanks were on fire. Firefighters are in defensive mode, using foam to prevent the fire from spreading.

After overnight air quality tests, a shelter-in-place for the Deer Park area has been lifted, but La Porte ISD and Deer Park ISD have canceled classes for the day. San Jacinto College says classes and offices will be open as normal for the day.

In Houston, some residents said they could smell the smoke in the early-morning hours. KHOU 11 Meteorologist Chita Craft says the winds are very calm, and clouds are trapping the smoke closer to the ground.

ITC says the tanks on fire hold Naphtha, which was the original product burning. We're told the fire spread to more tanks, at least one of which contains Xylene. Both of those identified substances are components of gasoline.

“Air monitoring continues and as of this update, no detectable amounts of the chemicals have been found outside the ITC fence line,” stated ITC Monday morning.

"As of 5:30 a.m., the City of Deer Park has received confirmation that no air quality readings conducted in response to the Intercontinental Terminals Company incident have exceeded action levels," stated the office of emergency management. "In light of this information, the City has made the decision to lift the Shelter-in-Place order and to re-open State Highway 225 with the public. Portions of Independence Parkway will remain closed until further notice."

The road closure includes all access points including Center Street.

As of Sunday their hope was to let chemicals burn off enough, then turn off a valve to let the fire die down.

Harris County pollution and HazMat are evaluating the air quality. So far, the pollution levels around the site are not elevated, but officials will continue to monitor them as the fire is expected to burn through the night.

Evacuations have not been ordered, but Harris County officials are ready to help if they are.

“Precinct 2 is standing by and ready to provide shelters to get people out of harm’s way," Commissioner Adrian Garcia said at a news conference.

What is Naphtha and Xylene?

During a Sunday afternoon news conference, Intercontinental Terminals Company officials told us that one of the products burning was the chemical compound Naphtha. We later learned the fire spread to a tank containing Xylene.

Naphtha is a gasoline component, which releases carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide when ignited. And it is highly flammable.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, the following are considered health risks associated with Naptha:

  • It can affect you when breathed in and by passing through your skin
  • Contact can burn the skin and eyes
  • Breathing Naptha can irritate the nose and throat
  • Exposure to Naptha can cause headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting
  • High exposure can cause drying and cracking of the skin
  • Repeated exposure may damage the nervous system and may affect the kidneys.

As for Xylene, the New Jersey Department of Health says the following are health hazards associated with it:

  • Xylene can affect you when inhaled and by passing through skin
  • Contact can irritate the skin and eyes. Prolonged or repeated contact can cause a skin rash, dryness and redness
  • Inhaling Xylene can irritate the nose and throat causing coughing and wheezing
  • Exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness and passing out.  Repeated exposure can affect concentration, memory, vision and muscle coordination. Higher levels can cause coma and death.
  • Xylenes may damage the liver or kidneys
  • Xylenes are flammable liquids and dangerous fire hazards

“Air monitoring is being done by authorities and ITC. Harris County pollution control and Harris County Hazmat is on the scene and they’re evaluating the air quality and we’re awaiting their results,” Alice Richardson with ITC told the media at the briefing.

During a small media briefing, an ITC spokesperson said the facility has been shut down. They said there were no injuries reported and all personnel and contractors have been accounted for.

KHOU Reporter Matt Dougherty and photographer Ralph Nickerson, who arrived on the scene shortly after the fire started, said they had to pull back because they were getting light headed.

How to shelter-in-place

The following bullet points are from FEMA.gov:

  • Bring your family and pets inside.
  • Lock doors, close windows, air vents and fireplace dampers.
  • Turn off fans, air conditioning and forced air heating systems.
  • Take your emergency supply kit unless you have reason to believe it has been contaminated.
  • Go into an interior room with few windows, if possible.
  • Seal all windows, doors and air vents with 2-4 mil. thick plastic sheeting and duct tape. Consider measuring and cutting the sheeting in advance to save time.
  • Cut the plastic sheeting several inches wider than the openings and label each sheet.
  • Duct tape plastic at corners first and then tape down all edges.
  • Be prepared to improvise and use what you have on hand to seal gaps so that you create a barrier between yourself and any contamination.

What role is the weather playing?

Meteorologist Lisa Vaughn said winds are coming from the northeast at about 10 to 15 mph. Communities in the path of the smoke include Friendswood, Clear Lake, Webster, Alvin, Pearland, League City and Hillcrest.

An atmospheric "capping inversion" - usually in place each morning - is forecast to erode through the day. That means the smoke will be able to mix into the upper levels of the atmosphere instead of being trapped at the surface (where we live and breath).

According to their website, ITC Deer Park terminal stores all kinds of petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil and distillates.

The ITC Deer Park terminal, which started in 1972, currently has13.1 million barrels of capacity in 242 tanks. It stores petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil and distillates. The terminal has five ship docks and ten barge docks, rail and truck access, as well as multiple pipeline connections.

According to their website, ITC Deer Park terminal stores all kinds of petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil and distillates.

The ITC Deer Park terminal, which started in 1972, currently has13.1 million barrels of capacity in 242 tanks. It stores petrochemical liquids and gases, as well as fuel oil, bunker oil and distillates. The terminal has five ship docks and ten barge docks, rail and truck access, as well as multiple pipeline connections

Copyright 2019 WTOL. All rights reserved.