HOUSTON - A chemical plant fire in Deer Park that went ablaze for hours Friday afternoon has been extinguished, according to officials on Saturday.
However, an official from Shell said around 3:14 p.m. on Saturday, some remaining products reignited and there is no threat to the nearby community. Officials say emergency response crews remained active to monitor for hot spots after the fire was extinguished. Response crews are responding to the fire and all employees and contractors are accounted for with no injuries reported.
"The fire at Shell’s Deer Park Chemicals facility has been extinguished. We are continuing to monitor the affected area for hot spots that could reignite. Air monitoring continues, and no harmful levels of chemicals have been detected. There is no danger to the nearby community. Our immediate priorities remain the safety of people and the environment. We continue to work in cooperation with local and state agencies. The cause of the fire will be the subject of a future investigation," Shell Deer Park said in a statement from the Deer Park Office of Emergency Management.
According to officials, air monitoring is ongoing and has not detected any harmful levels of chemicals affecting neighboring communities. Residents and neighbors will notice black smoke, flaring, and potentially, increased noise from the facility.
According to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, the fire was at the Shell Deer Park chemical plant at 5900 SH-225 at East Beltway. Sheriff Gonzalez says the fire started from a heat exchange between two heavy gas oils as workers were conducting maintenance on a unit.
That's when, according to authorities, there was a leak that ignited shortly after. Officials added there was no explosion at the plant, only a fire.
Preliminary information revealed the item on fire is a hydrocarbon, heavy gas, precursor to a heavy gas in diesel. The product is said to be being depressurized at this time.
The fire is reported to be diminishing and is contained, officials say.
We're told the total number of injuries was increased by officials in the latest update, nine contractors were injured. However, Shell officials said all nine were released after undergoing precautionary medical evaluations.
Air monitoring is ongoing, and has not detected any harmful levels of chemicals.
There is currently no danger to the nearby community.
The cause of the fire will be the subject of a future investigation.
Air Alliance said this in response to Shell's statement on that there was no danger to the community:
Last night, after a fire erupted and burned for hours at their facility, sending nine people for medical evaluation, Shell Chemical officials said "There is no danger to the nearby community." This is patently false. Smoke from fire, by definition, contains Particulate Matter, one of the most dangerous air pollutants, lodging in lungs and causing respiratory issues.
Moreover, during events like this, other toxic chemicals made or in use at the facility are also released into the air. This particular plant manufactures olefins, such as ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, which are known carcinogens. Since the facility has 24 hours to self-report the amount of emissions released, stating there is no harm is knowingly misleading.
Jennifer Hadayia, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston said: "Every time there is an event – a large-scale fire like what happened yesterday or even everyday flares – industry representatives tell us there is no cause for concern, that the lingering smells, smoky air, and even itchy throats and coughs are ‘normal.’ History has shown that these early statements are for the benefit of industry public relations and not public health."
As evidence: a two-part investigative report released this week by the Public Health Watch and the Texas Tribune about a fire in 2019 at the nearby ITC petrochemical tank farm in Deer Park revealed that toxic levels of benzene lingered in the air for days after the disaster, even though industry and regulatory officials told residents the air was safe. This was due to the use of inadequately protective standards for benzene risk.
The mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. Industry and regulatory officials must be transparent about what has been released into the air and its implications for health. As they monitor the air following yesterday’s event, they must use air toxics standards that are scientifically up-to-date and protective of public health. Exposure to these chemicals can have harmful health effects even in the short-term. We recommend that anyone who has been in the vicinity of the fire and is experiencing health issues to seek medical advice.
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia has issued the following statement:
"My office has been in touch with the Office of Emergency Management, and we have also personally spoken with the plant manager at the facility that has been burning. In addition, the Fire Marshal and Harris County Pollution Control are on site, and we’ve been assured that the situation is under control. All employees at the facility have been accounted for. We urge people to avoid the area to make room for emergency response. There is no shelter-in-place currently in effect.
Our CAMP (Community Air Monitoring Program) dashboard is operational, and we expect air quality data to start rolling in shortly. Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) will provide additional guidance on air quality as needed. As we learn more, we will be sure to share those updates.
We don’t know the cause of the fire, but a Harris County Fire Marshal investigation will begin as soon as the fire is out. Pollution Control will also remain in the area to continue air monitoring in the days ahead."
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also released a statement,
"I am wishing a smooth and fast recovery for the people who were injured in today's fire in Deer Park. While we have determined that the incident is contained at this time, multiple county and partner agencies remain on scene. Harris County Pollution Control air monitoring readings are available at www.readyharris.org, and Harris County Fire Marshals Office will be conducting an investigation into the origin of the incident. I am grateful to our first responders who continue to work as the incident concludes."