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Houston Ship Channel Closed By Spill

At least 28 vessels were waiting for permission to enter the Houston Ship Channel late on March 24 as a portion of the Houston Ship Channel remained closed following a spill at Intercontinental Terminals’ (ITC) storage facility in Deer Park, Texas. Another 26 vessels were waiting for permission to leave the ship channel.

The Coast Guard had closed a section of the ship channel March 22 after a containment wall around the ITC tank farm was breached and volatile chemicals leaked into the channel. ITC had battled a major fire for weeks.

The fire first broke out at ITC on March 16 when a naphtha tank manifold leaked and ignited, according to a filing to state environmental monitors. The fire later spread to tanks holding toluene and xylene, sending a black cloud billowing over Houston for days. It was first extinguished on March 20 after many days of fire crews covering the site in foam. High levels of benzene were reported, leading to shelter-in- place orders.

The Coast Guard closed the ship channel from Tucker’s Bayou adjacent to the ITC facility to Light 116 on March 22 when a 10-foot section of a containment wall around a section of the tank farm was breached. Foam used to extinguish the initial fire and other chemicals flowed into the Houston Ship Channel. Cargo operations on the ship channel were closed from Light 139 to Light 129.

The containment wall was secured by March 23. The cause of the breach is under investigation.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Coast Guard have taken actions to contain runoff from the ITC site using booms and pumping it to storage containers.

The Coast Guard’s Gulf Strike Team, which specializes in spill cleanups, has been called in to assist. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA is providing spill trajectories to the unified command.

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