Houston-area environmental experts share insight on petrochemical fire, barge collision

Environmental experts spoke at a pollution panel June 25 about recent environmental disasters.

Environmental experts spoke at a pollution panel June 25 about recent environmental disasters.

Environmental groups called for greater communication and transparency during environmental disasters and stricter regulations for related industries during a pollution forum June 25.

Officials from the Harris County Pollution Control Services, Air Alliance Houston, Galveston Bay Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund and more gathered at the Bay Area Community Center in Clear Lake Park in Seabrook for a forum to discuss recent environmental disasters and their effects on the environment.

In March, a tank of chemicals at Intercontinental Terminals Co. caught fire and took several days to extinguish. The blaze and foam firefighters used both released harmful chemicals into the environment, experts said.

In May, two barges collided in the Houston Ship Channel near Bayport, spilling 378,000 gallons of gasoline in Galveston Bay, officials said.

During the events, there was a lack of information to residents and between first responders about what chemicals were involved or the threat posed to the public. During the ITC fire, it took an hour before emergency personnel knew what chemical was burning, Houston Chronicle environmental reporter Perla Treviso said.

Experts said Harris County, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and other entities must establish better lines of communication and allow the public to know about environmental disasters sooner so they can properly respond. Many residents were told there was nothing to worry about during the ITC fire while they were suffering from the acute symptoms of exposure to the harmful chemical benzene—including headaches and nausea—leading to confusion, said Lucy Randel, Air Alliance Houston board member.

“The messaging is very important,” Randel said.

Galveston Bay Foundation official Sarah Gossett Robinson agreed, noting certain environmental groups were not immediately forthcoming with data gathered after the disasters.

“If everybody was completely upfront … with the information they were finding … we would feel a lot more comfortable that enough was being done to address these issues,” she said.

During both disasters, environmental groups found elevated levels of benzene in the water and air. After the barge collision, thousands of dead fish washed up on Kemah shores, and water near Seabrook had benzene levels of 2,600 parts per billion, which is “astronomically” high, Environmental Defense Fund scientist Katie Moore said.

“Really just an incredible number,” she said.

Moore said there needs to be enhanced enforcement to prevent such disasters and enhanced monitoring to quickly and accurately inform the public of environmental dangers when such accidents do occur.

Resident Doug Peterson, who organized the event, said it is important for residents to be more informed about such disasters as the petrochemical industry continues to grow.

“It’s time that we start paying a lot more attention to these things,” he said.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

<

MOST RECENT

(Courtesy Royalty Meat Company)
IMPACTS ROUNDUP: Royalty Meat Company now open and more

Here is a roundup of business news for Clear Lake and League City.

Costco Business Centers, of which there are only about 15 in the country, carry different products and provide a different shopping experience to members than do traditional Costco Wholesale stores. (Courtesy Costco Wholesale)
Costco Business Center being built in Stafford; see live music in The Woodlands and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the Houston area from the past week.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Houston City Council approved ordinances expanding and funding Houston’s BCycle program on April 14. (Courtesy Houston BCycle)
Houston City Council OKs expansion of BCycle sites

City Council approved the addition of 11 new BCycle kiosk bike stations.

Federal funding is set aside for public schools to address effects of the pandemic. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Why Texas has not yet distributed $18 billion in federal funds intended for public schools

As budget decisions loom for school districts across Texas, state leaders are holding on to federal funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Homes priced above $750,000, such as this one in the Heights, saw a surge in sales in March, with almost twice as many properties sold. (Courtesy Houston Association of Realtors)
Average Houston single-family home price jumps 20% in March

The average sale price for a home in March was $370,847.

While face masks will remain a requirement for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, a Clear Creek ISD committee has recommended masks be optional for the 2021-22 school year. (Jake Magee/Community Impact Newspaper)
Clear Creek ISD committee recommends making face masks optional next school year

While face masks will remain a requirement for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, a Clear Creek ISD committee has recommended masks be optional for the 2021-22 school year.

League City will give up nearly 30 acres of land to Friendswood in exchange for some of the property tax revenue generated by the move after League City City Council’s unanimous vote April 13. (Courtesy city of League City)
League City agrees to land swap with Friendswood

League City will give up nearly 30 acres of land to Friendswood in exchange for some of the property tax revenue generated by the move after League City City Council’s unanimous vote April 13.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said power outages are not expected April 13, while requesting energy conservation. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATE: ERCOT call for energy conservation ends April 13 without need for power outages

An ERCOT official said "tight" supply and demand conditions arose on the state's electric grid April 13 due to forecasting issues amid planned, seasonal maintenance outages by some power generators.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, the new court, if established, would expand the capacity of the county's criminal court system in hopes of reducing its backlog, which stood at 70,951 total cases pending before criminal district courts in Harris County as of April 8. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County supports creation of new criminal district court to tackle case backlog

If the efforts are successful, this would be Harris County's first new criminal district court since 1984 when the 351st District Court was created.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended health providers pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 13. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
State, federal health authorities recommend pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after 6 rare, severe blood clots

Hub providers in Dallas, Harris and Travis counties have all announced they will follow the recommendations and pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.