Several fishing areas closed due to pollution from ITC fire

The US Coast Guard has re-opened some parts of the Houston ship channel as progress is being made cleaning up pollution that spilled into the waterway from the Deer Park ITC fire.

But on Tuesday, sections of several waterfront parks are still closed due to the pollution concerns.

The city was able to reopen the park itself, but you can see the fishing pier is gated off to encourage people to stay away from the water after chemicals from the ITC fire leaked into the water Friday.

There are no signs relaying that message, so not everyone is getting it.

“I just assumed that they forgot to unlock it," said fisher William Fears. "I didn’t know that there was an actual hazard from the benzene.”

Fears and his friend found their way onto the pier to go fishing despite the closed gate.

“I didn’t even think about the water being polluted and toxic.”

Others who planned to fish spent all day searching for a pier that was open.

“We’ve gone everywhere from here to San Leon, and San Leon was about where we could actually reach water and fish, you know, comfortably—about 30 minutes from here," said fisher Brianna Elkins.

Port of Houston Police kept watch at Morgan’s Point today after someone removed the barricades yesterday and fishers accessed the water unauthorized.

“Consumption of fish from the channel should not be- You shouldn’t eat the fish,” says Adam Adams with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Independent water samples collected by the Galveston Bay Foundation from 14 areas of the Houston ship channel between Friday and Monday showed that the benzene levels in the channel spiked on Saturday to a level above EPA standards for fish and shellfish.

“Some of the contaminants we saw in the water are short term contaminants, because these are VOCs, which are volatile organic chemicals, which means they evaporate," said Bill Stokes with Galveston Bay Foundation.

By Monday, all water samples showed benzene levels were back down to 1 part per billion, according to the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Still, areas along the ship channel and gulf are continuing to discourage fishing by blocking access to their piers.

“We can’t make contact with the water. Everything’s barricaded off.”

U.S. Coast Guard said they’re continuing to collect oily pollution from the ship channel as of Tuesday. They won’t fully reopen it until they’re confident the ships going through won’t pick up and spread the pollution further. 

Back at ITC, the cleanup continues. The latest tank being drained today contains toluene, which is being moved to an undamaged tank.