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Deer Park chemical plant fire still burning, runoff water being pumped into Houston Ship Channel

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Deer Park chemical plant fire still burning, runoff water being pumped into Houston Ship Channel

Sunday marked the third day since a Shell chemical plant in Deer Park caught fire, and the smoke continued to rise.

The plant caught fire Friday afternoon due to a heat exchange between two heavy gas oils that occurred during “routine maintenance,” according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Nine contractors had been taken to the hospital but were released Friday night. Saturday morning, Shell announced the fire had been extinguished, but it later reignited around 3 p.m.

WHAT TO KNOW: What to know about the Shell chemical plant that caught fire in Deer Park

As of Sunday morning, the fire was still burning and Shell was warning residents of “black smoke, flaring and increased noise from the facility.”

The plant is located about 15 miles southeast of downtown Houston and less than two miles from the Houston Ship Channel. Sunday morning, Shell announced the runoff water from fighting the fire had exceeded the facility’s wastewater storage capacity and would begin to be released into the channel as a “controlled discharge.” The company said it would be deploying a boom — a large physical barrier used to contain oil spills — to keep any product from contaminating the water in the channel.

Shell said it expected it will need even more water to cool down the equipment once the fire was extinguished.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was onsite Friday and Saturday to perform air quality testing but it did not report any harmful levels of chemicals in the air. Such evaluation and air monitoring remained ongoing Sunday and TCEQ still had not detected any harmful chemicals, according to Shell.

But Air Alliance Houston, a nonprofit advocacy group, released a statement warning residents the smoke from the fire could cause respiratory issues. Air Alliance Houston also urged Deer Park residents and others nearby to seek medical help should they experience any health issues after being exposed to the smoke.

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