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Elevated Levels Of Benzene Detected After Texas Chemical Fire


Officials near Houston are working to reassure people there after elevated levels of benzene were detected near the scene of a massive fire at a petrochemical storage facility. From Houston Public Media, Gail Delaughter reports.

GAIL DELAUGHTER, BYLINE: A lot of people in the town of Deer Park, Texas, thought things were close to getting back to normal after three days of watching a huge plume of smoke that was visible for miles. That fire erupted at a tank farm operated by Intercontinental Terminals Company, just east of Houston. It spread to multiple tanks that contained the components for gasoline. But after it was finally extinguished, there was another problem. The EPA's Adam Adams says the agency started picking up small levels of benzene.


ADAM ADAMS: We do the air monitoring. We got the hit, and then it dissipated.

DELAUGHTER: It's believed the benzene escaped from a damaged tank after a foam blanket that was placed on top shifted. But there are still a lot of things that residents don't know, like the environmental aftereffects or when the cleanup will be finished. Company spokeswoman Alice Richardson got emotional after she was peppered with questions during a news conference.


ALICE RICHARDSON: ITC cares. We care a lot. We have been good stewards. We've been good neighbors.

DELAUGHTER: And it's not just what's in the air that has environmental groups worried. Those tanks are near the Houston Ship Channel, which empties into Galveston Bay, a popular spot for commercial and recreational fishing. Bob Stokes is with the nonprofit Galveston Bay Foundation, one of the organizations that's now doing water testing.

BOB STOKES: We are concerned that there's chemical byproducts from the fire, runoff of other sorts, certainly components from the naphtha, the xylene, the toluene and now the benzene that could theoretically be in the water. So that's what we'll be looking for.

DELAUGHTER: In a place where chemical plants and refineries pump billions of dollars into the area economy, there have also been other recent incidents. Luke Metzger with the advocacy group Environment Texas hopes that they get some attention, as well.

LUKE METZGER: I hope, you know, so that lawmakers are paying attention to what's going on and finally will act, put some teeth into the law to make sure these companies are held accountable and we can prevent these kinds of accidents from happening.

DELAUGHTER: Local officials are telling people to consult with a health care professional if they're feeling any ill effects after going outdoors. For NPR News, I'm Gail Delaughter in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gail Delaughter
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