Recent industrial accidents in the Galveston Bay region — including a barge collision that caused a gasoline odor for days, and a fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s Deer Park facility that sent chemicals into the air and water — have one group seeking answers from state and federal officials.
“It seems like there’s been a real spike in these events, as best the public can tell,” said Doug Peterson, one of the organizers behind an upcoming forum called Local Pollution and Your Health.
“And if state officials were here, we’d ask them about it. What we want is more information about all the recent incidents, the ITC fire, the barge and ship collision, etc. There are just not a lot of details out there.”
Peterson is a member of the Houston Region Concerned Citizens group, which previously worked to help pass bond referendums in Harris County, and more recently organized forums in north Galveston County about the Army Corps of Engineers’ coastal barrier plan.
“It’s funny, in this kind of circumstance, you want more officials from public agencies involved,” Peterson said. “But they don’t want to be involved.”
Organizers reached out to representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and several state legislators, but as of Wednesday afternoon, they have all declined to attend the June 25 forum, Peterson said.
“Due to the potential for litigation, we will not be able to attend,” said Ryan Vise, director of external relations for the commission, in an email provided to The Daily News.
Area organizers are asking questions primarily after a May collision led to more than 9,000 barrels of chemicals spilling into the Houston Ship Channel. Local, state and national officials have been working around Galveston Bay since May 10, when the 755-foot tanker Genesis River collided with two barges being moved by a tugboat, causing one barge to capsize and piercing another, which began leaking a feedstock blend called reformate similar to automobile gasoline, officials said.
After the collision, residents across Galveston County called local municipalities to report the distinct smell of gasoline.
But state officials in the aftermath of that incident cautioned residents that readings weren’t showing dangerous levels of pollutants.
“A lot of people are still concerned about what they were breathing for those couple of days,” Peterson said. “The industry just comes out and says everything is OK, but is that really resolving the issue?”
Preliminary data suggests chemical spills in Galveston Bay are happening about every six weeks, and local organizers are worried that such mishaps are becoming routine, Peterson said.
“It appears our capability of having safe operations is going down,” Peterson said. “But it seems like every day you pick up a business section of the newspaper and see the news that another $5 billion facility is being built.”
The barge spill came on the heels of another major setback for Galveston Bay. A tank fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park spilled contaminants into the water back in March, and several chemical facilities suffered spills during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Peterson said.