Intercontinental Terminals Fire
Deer Park, Texas
On March 17, 2019, a tank in a pod of 15 storage tanks containing naphtha caught fire. The fire caused releases from other tanks containing multiple chemicals and spreading throughout the pod. This prompted a massive interagency response involving federal, state, county, and industry response organizations. While the fire burned, particulate matter in the smoke rose to a height of about 4000 feet before spreading downwind. The smoke plume was tracked by weather satellites as far away as Austin, 250 miles away. Firefighters finally extinguished the massive blaze on March 20. The unburnt product in the damaged tanks and the containment area began vaporizing, and benzene vapor became the primary issue. During the cleanup at the tanks, a release into the Houston Ship Channel resulted, causing additional concerns.
After consulting with the Texas Health Commissioner, the Executive Director of Harris County Public Health requested direct assistance from CDC/ATSDR, including a team from Atlanta and ATSDR Region 6 in Dallas. Upon arrival, the NCEH/ATSDR team—consisting of an environmental health scientist, an environmental health officer, a medical toxicologist, and an epidemiologist—met with the county and the Interagency Unified Command. The ATSDR team reviewed the available environmental data, provided recommendations on medical management of exposures, and reviewed the epidemiological data obtained by the county and the Regional Poison Control Network in Texas. The county’s syndromic surveillance system of 33 healthcare facilities implemented daily census reports, instituted an “Ask a Nurse” line to field questions, and operated three “pop-up” community clinics in neighborhoods around the facility that attended to more than 1000 people in three days. ATSDR provided recommendations to improve future responses, including the early involvement of the Poison Control Centers in response efforts, and provided an exit report with interim results to the county health officer.
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