State and local governments have filed a lawsuit in the wake of an industrial fire that belched toxic smoke for days. A retaining wall also failed in the accident, spilling large amounts of toxins into nearby waters.
The state of Texas and Harris County filed a joint lawsuit against Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) on Wednesday in the aftermath of a massive fire at its Deer Park facility near Houston.
The suit seeks damages of an undetermined amount for breaking environmental laws and reimbursement of state and local authorities for the deployment of emergency responders, healthcare workers, and air and water monitoring systems.
Unknown amounts of chemicals spilled
The fire, which began on March 17 and raged for four days, blackened the skies with toxins before it could be put out. Eight of the site's 242 tanks caught fire during the blaze, with several collapsing from the heat.
A retaining wall was also breached, spilling unknown quantities of chemicals from the tanks as well as fire extinguishing foam into nearby waters.
The site is located on the Houston shipping channel and the spill has greatly hampered ship travel between oil refineries and the Gulf of Mexico. Clean up crews are still working to remove oil from the channel.
Highly toxic contents
ITC's tanks contain components used for producing gasoline as well as others used to make nail polish remover, glues and paint thinner.
When officials detected high levels of cancer-causing benzene in the air during and after the fire, residents were ordered to remain in their homes with windows and doors closed. Schools and roads in the area were also closed. Air monitoring is ongoing.
'State legislators need to do something'
As the lawsuit was filed, County Judge Lina Hidalgo urged lawmakers in Texas' Republican-controlled legislature to reject new laws that would limit the ability of counties to sue companies such as ITC as well as capping the amount of damages that local governments could recoup.
Residents in the area fear for their safety and that of their children. Many are concerned about long-term risks related to water quality.
One county official, Commissioner Steve Radack, said: "Until some of these people who go out and put massive amounts of human beings at risk start finding themselves in jail, you're not going to see what we need to see. When you take a look at how many people could have been killed in this incident, and these people's track record. I think it's a shame. Something drastic needs to be done, and our state legislature needs to do it."
js/jm (AP, Reuters)