ITC suffers "setbacks" in ongoing cleanup effort

ITC officials are speaking out today about why benzene in the air was once again elevated over the weekend in the Deer Park area.

The Fire Marshal’s office says they had to cancel their plans to go into the burned area, “due to setbacks at the ITC facility over the weekend." 

ITC executive Brent Weber talked about those setbacks today.

“We encountered some pumping issues in our tank farm containment area, which allowed the liquid level to start increasing, which corresponded to elevated benzene and VOC levels.”

According to the EPA, two instantaneous readings of elevated benzene levels above 1 part per million were detected in two different locations in the vicinity of the ITC facility on Sunday by a team of EPA, TCEQ, and ITC representatives.

“They got the blip. All three of them got the blip, and then it was gone just like that fast," says Adam Adams with the EPA. 

A business down the street from ITC, “Geo Specialty Chemicals”, issued a shelter in place advisory on Saturday.

But, EPA officials say air quality remains safe for residents of Deer Park and La Porte.

Some of those residents are not convinced.

“The city isn’t telling us that we need to leave. The city isn’t saying anything clearly about stuff, but yeah, I would love to leave. I would love to get out of here," says La Porte resident Jorge Garcia. 

Down the street from his home, “Little Cedar Bayou Park” is among the waterfront parks closed to the public for more than a week now due to water quality concerns in the ship channel.

“Yeah a lot of people are pretty upset about the parks being closed down, and the fish," Garcia said. "I had a buddy of mine trying to go fishing the other day, and I told him. I was like, ‘Nah, dude. You really shouldn’t be doing that.’”

On the water, the Coast Guard is still limiting ship and barge traffic to daytime movement only in the affected area of the upper Houston ship channel as skimmers continue to clean oily pollutants from the water.

“We understand the impact to the commerce—and especially the industry—of these restrictions, and while we’re making headway in cleaning up some of the effected areas on the ship channel, I still don’t have a firm timeline for you on when the ship channel will be open to all traffic," said Captain Rich Howes with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Today, the EPA said that the ITC tank farm is more secure than it’s been since the start of the fire. ITC officials say they now have just three more tanks to secure out of the original 15. The final tanks contain gas blend and naphtha.