Air Alliance Houston Statement on the Shell Chemical Plant Fire in Deer Park, Texas (May 5, 2023)
Media contact: Riikka Pohjankoski, 713-589-7079, [email protected]
HOUSTON – A large fire occurred earlier today at the Shell Chemical Plant in Deer Park, Texas. At least five people were transported to the hospital, and, once again, communities were left fearing for their health and safety as dark smoke billowed across the area.
Air Alliance Houston has issued the following statement in response to this chemical disaster:
We are grateful to the first responders who contained today’s fire and wish those injured a very swift recovery.
This event is yet another reminder of the threat posed by the petrochemical companies that line our Houston Ship Channel. These facilities are failing to take adequate precautions to prevent disasters, and our state regulatory agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), continues to turn away.
Shell Deer Park had over 200 emergency response events on record before today’s event and as recently as last year. They are categorized as a “high priority violator” of the Clean Air Act and are one of the top 10 highest air toxics emitters in Harris County. Yet, the TCEQ continues to renew their air permit.
This incident comes just one day after residents begged state regulators to reject an air permit for a nearby facility, ITC Deer Park, where a massive fire occurred in 2019. That fire burned for days, resulted in multiple school and road closures, and released significant amounts of benzene (a known carcinogen) into the air.
Juan Flores, Air Alliance Houston’s Community Air Monitoring Program Manager and resident of the neighboring Portside community Galena Park, which was upwind from today’s fire, said: “I am positive that Deer Park residents, seeing the smoke and fire emerging from Shell today, were bracing for the worst. How many disasters have to happen before the TCEQ takes action? It’s just not right.”
Though it will be at least 24 hours before a full report is issued about the chemicals released by the Shell incident, we know that the olefins unit that burned produces petrochemicals shown to impact health, including carcinogens like ethylene, propylene, and butadiene. We urge anyone who was in the vicinity of the fire and is experiencing health issues to seek medical attention right away.
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” said Jennifer Hadayia, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, “Fenceline and frontline communities should not have to live in fear of the next disaster, and they should not have to suffer the health effects of air pollution. We need stronger safety regulations and a regulator willing to put people over polluters.”
About Air Alliance Houston
Air Alliance Houston is a non-profit advocacy organization working to reduce the public health impacts from air pollution and advance environmental justice through applied research, education, and advocacy. For more information and resources, please visit www.airalliancehouston.org.