Chemical fire in the Houston area expected to last several days


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By Reuters

HOUSTON – A fire at a petrochemical storage site in the Houston area has continued to rage late Monday and is expected to last another two days, officials said, sending thick black smoke into the air miles away. Round.

Firefighters were making progress in their attempts to control the Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) fire as the number of giant storage tanks burned down from six to seven, said ITC spokeswoman Alice Richardson.

The fire at a site along the Houston Ship Channel in Deer Park, Texas, began on Sunday when a leak from a tank containing volatile naphtha caught fire and spread to others in the same complex, announced the company. The tanks contain tens of thousands of barrels of products used to increase the octane number of gasoline, make solvents and plastics.

The fire has not disrupted refineries and shipments near the country's busiest petrochemical port, authorities said. Houston Ship Channel is home to nine US oil refineries that process 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd), or 12 percent of the national total.

A plume of smoke rises from a petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company, in Deer Park, Texas on March 18, 2019.David J. Phillip / AP

ITC, which belongs to the Japanese company Mitsui & Co, has reported no injuries among its staff. The City of Deer Park encouraged local residents to stay home, which resulted in the lifting of an on-site shelter order imposed earlier Monday.

The Texas Environmental Quality Commission had "not detected an immediate health problem at ground level" around the plant at noon Monday. The state was also seeking a specialized aircraft to monitor emissions at high altitudes.

The burning tanks contained naphtha and xylene, fuels used in gasoline and plastics, and toluene – a volatile liquid used in the manufacture of nail polish remover and paint thinner. Other tanks contained base oils commonly used as machine lubricants.

The firefighters sought to purge the naphtha from one of the tanks in order to deprive the fire of fuel.

"It will probably be two days," said Ray Russell, chief communications officer for Channel Industries Mutual Aid, which coordinates firefighting services at Houston Ship Channel's facilities.

"The tank is going to have to burn," he said at a press briefing.

The fire had little impact on the price of regular gasoline delivered Monday on the Colonial Pipeline, which carries fuel from the US Gulf Coast to the US states. # 39;.

The naphtha tank ignited for the first time as a result of a leak in a pipe and the flames spread to nearby tanks, ITC reported Monday. to a Texas regulator. His report does not say why the leak caught fire.

A plume of smoke rises from a petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company, in Deer Park, Texas on March 18, 2019.David J. Phillip / AP

Officials at the Deer Park School (population 32,000) and the neighboring town of La Porte (Texas), with about 34,000 residents, suspended their classes on Monday and told employees not to go to school. job.

Tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and burned early Monday, said ITC officials.

The six tanks still in flames are surrounded by nine other storage tanks in a spill containment dam. Firefighters used a fire retardant on nearby tanks to limit the spread of fire.

Vessels continued to transit the 50-kilometer canal, which is part of the Houston port linking refineries and chemical plants in Houston and Texas City to the Gulf of Mexico.

"There was no impact on the shipping traffic other than the two terminals," said JJ Plunkett, Houston Pilots Harbor Officer, whose members guide ships into and out of the canal. . The access of ships to the wharves at ITC and Vopak terminals has been restricted by the US Coast Guard, he said.

The atmospheric emissions tests detected the presence of a volatile organic compound six miles from the facility. Levels were lower than those considered dangerous, said ITC.

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