DEER PARK, Texas - Four citations filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against Intercontinental Terminals Company shed light on what may have led up to the massive ITC chemical fire in Deer Park back in March.
The space along Independence Parkway where the chemical fire raged nearly seven months ago is now a dirt field. ITC’s tank farm is far from being rebuilt, and as the new OSHA citations indicate, its legal battles are also far from over.
As autumn arrives in Deer Park, ITC is in the midst of negotiations with OSHA over a proposed penalty of $53,040, an ITC spokesman tells FOX 26. OSHA says that fine is being levied against the chemical tank farm as a consequence of committing four serious safety violations.
“It’s not right,” said Sharon Rhodes, who is suing ITC. “Something has to change.”
Rhodes says her health has never fully recovered after she was hospitalized with symptoms following a visit to Deer Park in which she spent several hours in close proximity to the giant plume of black smoke from the fire.
“I was at Bayshore Hospital...for three weeks—life support,” said Rhodes.
She has joined a class action lawsuit against ITC. Bill Ogden and Shawn Fox are two attorneys representing about five-thousand people who filed class-action lawsuits against the tank farm company in the aftermath of the chemical fire that raged for 4 days. The attorneys say they plan to use the OSHA citations against ITC as evidence in the suit.
“Those are all standards of care that they violated that we can use to prove negligence on the company,” said Ogden.
The first of four violations listed as “serious” says the employer failed to ensure the foam generating equipment at the tank farm was protected against exposure to fire.
“Their foam suppression system...wasn’t in an area that could handle the fire,” said Ogden. “So it’s hard to suppress that fire if your system burns up in that fire.”
The second citation says ITC did not implement written procedures to maintain the on-going integrity of process equipment. This exposed employees to fire hazards.
The third citation says ITC failed to inspect and test the piping on the Naptha tank where the fire originated.
The fourth citation says the piping connected to that tank was too thin, and the employer failed to correct that deficiency.
“Because it was so thin, it melted in the fire, causing a bigger fire, and then the fire spread up the line,” said Fox.
An ITC spokesman said it’s important to note these are not willful or repeat violations. The spokesman sent this statement to FOX 26:
“We are disappointed to see trial attorneys misrepresent what everyone knows is a preliminary part of the process. We continue to work with all of the relevant government agencies and look forward to the actual conclusions. Safety has always been and will continue to be a core value of ITC. We are thankful for the coordinated effort of first responders, government agencies, our employees and contractors who responded quickly and effectively to protect the health and safety of our community.“