HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Hundreds in the Houston area are complaining of a number of symptoms since the hazardous chemicals have been released into the air. Several things are being done to help treat them, including an emergency health clinic that has been set up.
A mobile health clinic at 500 West 13th Street in Deer Park has medical professionals to answer any questions and residents experiencing any symptoms can be checked out free of charge.
Seeing smoke saturated in dangerous chemicals stream into our air has made many people uncomfortable, and they want to know if simply breathing outdoors is something that’s dangerous to do.
"All of the materials that have come up from that fire and continue to go into the air get ingrained in the wind and get blown away,” explains UT Health Medical Toxicologist Dr. Arch Carson, who says the chemicals are most concentrated at the site of the fire but become diluted the further away they drift.
In addition to the NAPTHA, xylene, and toluene that originally burned, most recently benzene was detected in the air. According to the CDC, it’s a highly flammable chemical that will float on water and evaporate quickly into the air, but its vapor is heavier than air and may sink to low lying areas. Benzene is widely used in the U.S. to make plastics, detergents, and can be found in glues, furniture wax, paints, and tobacco smoke.
Some immediate symptoms of benzene exposure include drowsiness, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, headaches, and confusion. Long term, Dr. Carson says it can cause cancer, but he says that’s only if you’re exposed to extremely high levels of the chemical over a long period of time.
“It’s a toxin to the blood forming organs and causes mutations in the cells that are responsible for that and leads to changes that are eventually recognized as cancer,” Dr. Carson explains.
Harris Health System has set up an Ask The Nurse Hotline at 713-634-1110 and has been flooded with hundreds of calls.
“We received more than 520 calls in just a few hours,” says Jennifer Lahue with Harris Health System.
“They are asking respiratory related questions such as breathing issues, tightening of the throat, lightheadedness, dizziness,” Lahue adds.
"I’ve been getting so many calls from people who are smelling things, who are having itchy, watery eyes. Whether it’s caused by this or not I don’t care. I just want them to get care,” says Precinct 2 Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who is the brainchild behind the mobile health clinic. "I wanted to do everything possible to provide resources and access to care. In this area a lot of people don’t have health insurance."
Commissioner Garcia says the Coast Guard and EPA are testing water quality in the ship channel right now, but it could be a couple of days before results are back.
The mobile clinic will be set up until 7:00 p.m. and again tomorrow from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.