A Texas city ordered residents to take shelter indoors on Thursday morning for the second time in a week as the air quality there worsened days after a fire at a petrochemical storage facility.
The blaze in Deer Park, about 20 miles east of Houston, began on Sunday morning when a storage tank caught fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company’s facility there, the city said. The city issued a shelter-in-place order that afternoon, but lifted it by the next morning after officials received word that air quality readings had not “exceeded action levels.”
Several fire departments fought the blaze throughout the week to prevent it from spreading and extinguished it by early Wednesday morning, officials said. Throughout Wednesday, local and federal officials had assured the public that air-quality readings were “well below hazardous levels” and that there “was no potential threat” posed by elevated levels of benzene in the air.
Benzene, which is a natural part of crude oil and gasoline, is a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor that is known to cause cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
But early Thursday officials issued another shelter-in-place order around 5 a.m. The Deer Park Fire Department posted a statement from a judge that said air quality readings in the area had crossed “our very conservative” standards, and that officials were again telling residents to take shelter “out of an abundance of caution.”
“We know this is concerning, especially to residents in the area of the shelter in place,” the statement said. “We are continuing to monitor to verify if this is a short-term, onetime exposure or a longer exposure. At the level of benzene we are seeing now for the current duration it should not cause symptoms even in the area impacted.”
Various streets and highways were closed because of the order and the local school district canceled classes.