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Three-Day Chemical Plant Fire in Texas Poses Minimal Health Risk, Shell Says

by Martina Igini Americas May 9th 20232 mins
Three-Day Chemical Plant Fire in Texas Poses Minimal Health Risk, Shell Says

Nine workers were sent to a hospital after a fire erupted at a chemical plant in the Houston area last Friday. Texas officials and Shell reassured that the huge plume of smoke, visible for miles, does not pose serious health risks. 

The three-day fire at Shell’s Deer Park chemical plant in Texas, which began shortly before 3 p.m. on Friday and prompted the evacuation of all employees, poses minimal health risks, state officials and Shell reassured.

The blaze, reignited over the weekend after being previously extinguished, igniting toxic fuels that sent black plumes of smoke over the Houston area. The smoke was visible for miles and even from space, according to Houston meteorologists. 

Nine contractors were sent to the hospital over the weekend with minor injuries due to exposure to chemicals burned in the fire but have since been resealed.

In a statement on social media on Monday, Shell Deer Park Chemicals said the re-ignited fire had been successfully extinguished and wastewater discharge was no longer being directed to the Houston Ship Channel – where it was initially discharged at a rate of 11,000 gallons a minute – but was instead added to nearby retention ponds, as it was still used to cool equipment. 

The company also reassured worried residents that the fire did not pose any health risks. 

“Air monitoring is ongoing and has not detected any harmful levels of chemicals affecting neighboring communities. There is no danger to the nearby community, but residents may continue to see intermittent flaring from the facility.”

Texas officials, including the state environmental regulator, joined Shell in stating that neither air nor water pollution levels were a concern. ​​Kelly Cook, a deputy director at the Texas Council on Environmental Quality, said that “detections [on air emissions] were very low and certainly well below any levels of concern.”

Despite the reassurance, advocates and residents remain worried. 

According to Bloomberg, the blaze originated in a section of the plant where several chemicals used to make plastics and other products like detergent and rubber are produced, leading to the ignition of cracked heavy and light gasoil as well as gasoline, all fuels associated with respiratory issues, cancer, foetal abnormalities, and toxic to aquatic animals. 

The cause of the fire at the petrochemical plant will be the “subject of a future investigation,” Shell said on Saturday, adding that the priority was to continue with the response and ensure that the fire did not reignite.

Featured image: Roy Luck/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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Tagged: shell texas

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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