As state agencies and environmental groups continue to test the Houston Ship Channel and parts of Galveston Bay for contaminants from the Intercontinental Terminals Co. tank fire in Deer Park, the threat those chemicals will have a direct effect on Galveston Island or its beaches is remote, experts say.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reported Saturday it had found hazardous concentrations of some chemicals, including benzene, in a drainage ditch that carries water from the plant to the ship channel.
The chemicals apparently leaked into the ship channel Friday afternoon, after a containment wall at the plant failed, allowing a mix of chemicals and firefighting foam to leak into the channel.
Part of the Houston Ship Channel was closed Saturday, as cleanup crews worked to contain the leak. The nonprofit Galveston Bay Foundation last week also began taking samples of the water from the ship channel and Galveston Bay, said Bob Stokes, the foundation’s president.
While the leaks at the plant have sparked some fears — and social media jokes — that the chemicals would end up on Galveston Island’s beaches, it’s unlikely local samples would show any contamination from the plant leak, Stokes said on Friday.
That’s because Galveston Bay is so large that any runoff would be diluted by the time it reached Galveston Island, he said.
“Even if Houston discharged a whole bunch of sewage into the ship channel, it would not impact Galveston,” Stokes said.
That’s not to say that local effects couldn’t possibly be found in the Galveston area. It’s possible, for instance, that fish in the area of the Houston Ship Channel could migrate farther south toward the island and later be found to have been contaminated, he said.
As of Sunday, there had been no new seafood consumption advisories issued because of the ITC fire.
Galveston Island is more than 30 miles from the Deer Park facility. Since the fire began on March 17, Galveston County officials have said they are monitoring the fire, but have had to do little else by way of reaction.
The Galveston Park Board of Trustees said Friday it was watching the news about the runoff into Galveston Bay.
“Park Board officials and the Convention & Visitors Bureau are closely monitoring the runoff from the ITC fire and will keep tourists and visitors informed,” park board spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said. “We will be closely monitoring the shoreline and remain in close contact with the Galveston Bay Foundation, as well as the Coast Guard and state officials.”