The people in or near Houston, TX experienced wide-spread panic over toxic levels of benzene pouring into the air this week. It originated from Deer Park, TX, just north of Pasadena, as flames of the recent chemical plant fire have finally been extinguished. Starting at the
Intercontinental Terminal Company the fire went on for four days, was extinguished, started again, and now seems to be finally over. The disaster began at one single benzene tank, which quickly spread to others. The fire was battled with a special firefighting team from Louisiana who used foam and water to reduce the flames from spreading.
The fire started at a transfer pump which then migrated to a tank according to Marcelo D’Amico, who leads fire protection engineer and risk management for Orcus Fire. Without proper systems in place, which would have stopped the fire in an instant the flames continued to spread.
With the fire burning and sending smoke into the surrounding area’s several school districts and stores were closed in hopes to protect civilians. Although no serious injuries have been reported, the chemical smoke that rose into the air should be considered dangerous for health.
According to Harris County Public Health civilians in the area should monitor their health for coughing, difficulty breathing, burning, irritation, redness in eyes, and even nausea/dizziness. Those most at risk of these health problems are children and the elderly with respiratory issues. If any of these problems arise seek medical attention for help.
To avoid these problems HCA Houston Healthcare released a statement that it is best for people to stay inside to avoid furthering health complications. Those who thought of face mask as a precaution should be warned that even the mask will not be able to protect you from the fumes. With the fire lasting only four days, those who were in the surrounding areas should have only had limited exposure. But even limited exposure can be harmful.
Britton Bronson, student Doctor at Texas Chiropractic College, is living in Pasadena for school and has felt the consequences of the fire. Bronson suggested that as early as Monday when she first saw the fire she believed that it had the capabilities of spreading further. “The city sent out a notice about what was happening and said everything would be okay, but you could tell this wasn’t normal”. Bronson stated that a citywide shelter ordinance was sent out and you can still feel the lingering effects of the explosion. “My friends and I have noticed problems including coughing, dizziness, and even migraines.”
Benzene is an organic chemical compound widely used in industrial applications. It is classified as a hydrocarbon, as it contains only carbon and hydrogen, and is derived from crude oil. It is a colorless and highly flammable sweet-smelling liquid. It is likely what you smell near gas stations. But because it is a carcinogen, and may cause cancer, it is limited to industrial applications and to less than 1% in consumer gasoline to increase octane and reduce knocking.