Parents Have Serious Health Concerns in the Wake of Petrochemical Fires in Texas

BY ON March 28, 2019
Deer Park PD Crossing Guard Adell Boren makes sure Deer Park Jr. High School students are safe as they cross East 13th and Meadowlark Streets in spite of a chemical fire burning nearby Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Deer Park. Photo: Steve Gonzales,  Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Deer Park PD Crossing Guard Adell Boren makes sure Deer Park Jr. High School students are safe as they cross East 13th and Meadowlark Streets in spite of a chemical fire burning nearby Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in Deer Park. Photo: Steve Gonzales,  Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

 

“I do not fully trust what they say. I do believe what is in the air is very harmful and it can have long-term effects such as cancer and things like that later down the line. I don’t think it’s worth risking that for me or my kids to stay there and breathe in this stuff,” Kristin Crump, a mother of a 6 and 13 year old, told the Associated Press.

Moms testified along with more than 30 residents, about fears that some Harris County officials were downplaying the risk to the public from hazardous chemicals emitted by the petroleum product storage company that failed to prevent a massive petrochemical tank fire in Deer Park, Texas.

Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC) was slapped a lawsuit from Harris County for “causing suffering or allowing the discharge of at least one air contaminant without a permit and in such concentration and or such duration as to be injurious to human health, welfare or property, or as to interfere with the normal use and enjoyment of property.”

That “air contaminant” is benzene. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns: long-term exposure to the highly flammable chemical causes harmful effects on the blood, including bone marrow.

The fire burned for more than 60 hours, prompting school closures, shelter-in-place orders, and spikes of benzene that spewed into the air. “The benzene levels were off the chart. Given the potential of exposure to high concentrations of benzene over multiple days, we are very concerned about the health and safety of residents living in the nearby communities,” said Elena Craft, senior director for climate and health at Environmental Defense Fund.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Radack blasted ITC:

“The reality is there are people in this world that expose law abiding citizens to risk for the sake of profit. There are people who continually violate criminal sanctions, civil rules, fines. But the reality is, until some of these people who go out and put massive amounts of human beings at risk – until those people start finding themselves placed in jail – you’re not going to see what you need to see.

We can dance all around it. We can say all these things about it – to see some site there and talk about how we care, bawling on TV, when they work for that place, and try to make excuses that ‘we care,’ after their track record, is outrageous. Period.

Some people don’t agree with criminal sanctions to the degree I do, but when you take a look at how many people could have been killed in this incident, and these people’s track record, I think it’s a shame. Something drastic needs to be done, and our state legislature needs to do it. Go ahead and put some of these big moneymakers in jail. And then you’re going to see things clean up.”

An ITC spokeswoman declined comment to the Houston Chronicle on the lawsuit.

When a disaster happens of the magnitude of the Deer Park petrochemical fire, moms couldn’t agree more with Commissioner Radack. Health issues don’t end when the fires are extinguished. We need to know the impacts of dangerous chemicals before communities go up in flames and people suffer horrific health consequences. And we must hold polluters and legislators that allow our families to be endangered, accountable.

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TOPICS: Air Pollution, Cancer, Children's Health, Texas, Toxics