Weeks after ITC Deer Park blaze, Texas House committee demands answers

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — About three weeks after an explosion at a chemical storage facility near Houston sent flames into the sky and prompted school closures and shelter-in-place orders, Texas lawmakers will demand answers at a hearing Friday. 

The Intercontinental Terminal Company fire in Deer Park burned for days and raised questions about air quality for residents in the surrounding area — one of the issues the Texas House committee will take up during the hearing. 

The Texas House Environmental Regulation committee and the Homeland Security and Public Safety committee will be meeting at the State Capitol Friday to hear from the agencies that were responsible for oversight of the chemical company. 

Concerns for air quality became heightened when it was discovered that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s air quality monitors weren’t working. This caused benzene to go undetected for hours. 

Environmental Regulation Committee Vice Chairman Rep. Ed Thompson said cities and counties usually come up with emergency plans but there needs to be better coordination with the state and federal agencies. He plans to ask the TCEQ why there is no system in place to detect poor air quality during emergencies. 

Thompson said he wants to increase the state’s presence at these facilities.

“I think it would be good for us as the state to go out and do physical inspections and so what we need is those inspectors that can go out and be boots on the ground looking at the facilities, making those sorts of judgments of whether or not they’re doing what they need to do,” he said. 

State inspections are in place, but Thompson believes the gap between each one is too long. 

“It should be part of our permitting process, in other words, we should be in a situation where we are observing these permitted areas that we have here in the state and making sure that they’re doing what they need to be doing,” he said. 

Some Deer Park residents are upset they will not be able to share their concerns during Friday’s meeting. They plan to hold their own news conference at 9:30 a.m. on the State Capitol ground to air their concerns.

Thomspon told KXAN additional meetings to hear from the community will be held in the coming months. 

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