A fire at the International Terminals Company (ITC) facility in Houston suburb of Deer Park has led to a "shelter in place" order for ITC employees who were working inside the facility when the fire broke out Sunday at around 10:30 a.m. As of 5:30 p.m. the shelter in place order is restricted to the facility itself and to the Deer Park community. At this time the cause of the fire is unknown but on-scene officials reported it is still "uncontrolled" some 7 hours after it began.
In response to the fire, the Offices of Emergency Management in both Deer Park and neighboring La Porte ordered the closing of Highway 225 in both directions. Although not mentioned in the initial reports, it can be assumed that representatives from the Chemical Safety Board are enroute to assist with an investigation into how the fire began as well as to monitor cleanup procedures.
An ITC spokesperson stated that the fire involves storage tanks filled with petroleum naphtha. In its liquid state, petroleum is described as being colorless, having an odor resembling that of gasoline, and as being highly flammable. According to its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) short-term exposure to naphtha results primarily in irritation of the eyes, upper respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs), and skin. In higher air concentrations naptha can cause neurologic symptoms such as dizziness or changes in behavior, although these symptoms will disappear once exposure ceases. Chronic (long term) exposure can be associated with disorders of the nervous system, liver, and blood-forming tissues. As far as is known, there is no link between both short- and long-term exposure to naphtha and an increased rate of cancer.
ITC's Deer Park terminal began operations in 1972 and currently has 242 storage tanks with a capacity of just over 13 million barrels for three general types of products:
Petroleum distillates: Generally, petroleum distillates include almost anything that can be produced from the fractional distillation of crude oil. Such products include gasoline, kerosene, paraffin, diesel, and tar.
Fuel oil: Fuel oils are broadly defined as petroleum-based substances that are intended to be burned in a furnace or boiler for the production of heat.
Bunker oil: Bunker oil is any fuel that is stored in a ship's fuel tanks (fuel "bunkers") for use in powering the ship's engines and is a remnant of crude oil after the crude has been distilled to produce other petroleum products such as gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel. This product is graded as being A, B, or C based on its viscosity ("thickness" or resistance to flow) with C being the most viscous and having the highest temperature required to vaporize it so that it can be burned in an engine.
At The Doan Law Firm, our industrial accident injury lawyers will be closely monitoring future developments in this accident and will be posting updates as they become available.