Deer Park Fire: Reignited fire extinguished, residents may continue to see 'intermittent flaring'

A fire at a chemical plant in Deer Park that reignited over the weekend may finally be extinguished, however, officials say more work is still being conducted. 

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According to a press release issued Monday, Shell's Deer Park Chemicals facility confirmed it extinguished the reignited fire Sunday night but is still putting out hotspots in certain areas but working to prevent another reigniting. 

"The re-ignited fire at Shell’s Deer Park Chemicals facility was extinguished last night," the release stated. "As a result, responders are using less water to manage hot spots, eliminating the discharge of overflow to the Houston Ship Channel. 

"Water continues to be added to nearby retention ponds for the purpose of cooling equipment," the release continued. "Air monitoring is ongoing and has not detected any harmful levels of chemicals affecting neighboring communities."

The fire burned for so long that the company says they ran out of space to store wastewater and instead had to discharge the liquid to the Houston Ship Channel, in a controlled fashion.

Shell said a boom was installed to ensure no product was discharged into the water. The TCEQ says they will monitor water quality levels to ensure the water is safe.  

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No shelter in place was ever ordered. The company said 15 contractors had to be medically evaluated after the fire, instead of nine contractors, which was the number originally reported by authorities on Friday. 

Authorities said Monday they’re certain there is no threat to the surrounding area. 

"We have overwhelmed the area with air monitoring," said Kelly Cook with the TCEQ. "All of our results were coming back the same, so that’s important. We’re not saying there were no detections. We’re saying any detections are very low and well below any levels of concern."

Despite the ongoing issue, Shell reassures the public there is no danger to nearby residents but may see what they described as "intermittent flaring." 

Additionally, the cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, as of this writing, but an investigation continues. 

"The cause of the fire will be the subject of a future investigation," the release explained. "Our immediate priorities remain the safety of people and the environment."

Air Alliance Houston, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization is criticizing the Shell for its lack of transparency and the TCEQ for not holding the company accountable.

"When statements are made that they there is no danger to the community," said Jen Hadayia, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston. "We believe that's simply a public relations statement, and it's not about public health. This facility, as an example, had well over 200 documented emergency events before Friday's fire. In our opinion those are warning signs."

State regulators responded saying this will all be part of their investigation moving forward.

"We have looked at all the past violations and taken those into consideration. From previous reports, from compliance history ratings, they were satisfactory," said Cook. 
The City of Deer Park also put out a notice on social media asking residents to look out for certain ‘water sample testing kits’ being dropped off at residents’ doors. Deer Park says those kits are not approved or endorsed by the city. Officials say anyone with concerns about their water should contact Public Works at (281) 479-2394.