State committee warned ITC fire could reignite

The fire that swept through the ITC tank farm near Houston is now out.

Friday, at a joint Texas House Committee, lawmakers were told by the head of TCEQ that the crisis is not over. "This is an ongoing response, the event is not yet over and there is still a fire risk at this point,” said TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker.

The fire ignited March 17 and is still under investigation.

While the cause remains unknown, during the hearing State Rep Mary Ann Perez raised concern about the initial response to the disaster. She read several 911 call logs, including the following; 

"At 10:14. 14 minutes after the fire started you got a caller saying it looks like ITC is having a fire, do you know anything about it? and 911 Operator says, they have sent us absolutely nothing."

Documents indicate it took more than 40 minutes for full information to get out. 

"If you've got a chemical burning for 47 minutes, and no one knows what it is, that means none of those citizens downwind know what they are breathing for 47 minutes. and that is what I have a problem with. And this is something somehow we need to fix,” said Rep. Perez.

Another big issue was the collapse of a containment dyke. It released chemicals into the Houston ship channel and nearby bayous. "We've collected a little over 209,000 Barrels of contaminated water, about 81,000 from the water and about 130,000 from the Tank Farm itself,” said Baker.

Water quality monitoring is being done along the beaches in Galveston. So far, nothing has been found. Air monitors have also been deployed across Houston.

Committee members indicated the agencies that regulate chemical sites may need more authority. "What are we doing investigating, taking a look at the facilities holding these facilities accountable,” said State Rep. Ed Thompson (R) Pearland.

State and federal officials say inspections are being done, but said there are tanks built decades ago under different codes, and containment areas are typically designed to hold back only the contents of the largest tank at a complex. The deadline to file a non-local bill has already passed. But a procedural vote could be done to get something like a new notification rule up for consideration.

Lawmakers could also tack a proposal on another bill as an amendment.

The committee was told the cost responding to the disaster is approaching a million dollars. The company is expected to pay back most if not all of the cost, but the committee member Ron Reynolds says the State rainy day fund may be needed to pay for a more extensive clean up.

"I think everything should be on the table, the Rainy Day Fund is there for situations possible like this, I will ask the Governor and the House Leadership to Speaker of the House to consider using those funds to remediate this situation,” said State rep. Ron Reynolds (D) Missouri City.

It's not known how long the cleanup will take and how long the monitoring process will continue.



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