Imelda cited in release of almost 100,000 pounds of air pollutants

Black smoke from the Goodyear facility could be seen from Fannett as a Jefferson County Sheriff helps guide a motorist past Tropical Storm Imelda flooding. Photo: Guiseppe Barranco/The Enterprise

Tropical Depression Imelda, which dumped as much as 43 inches of rain in some ares of Jefferson County, contributed to the release of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic air pollutants from area chemical plants and refineries, state records show.

About a dozen facilities in counties affected by the storm reported unauthorized releases from Wednesday through Friday, triggered by electrical outages, the failure of floating roof tanks and equipment malfunctions caused by flooding. Together, these companies reported releasing nearly 100,000 pounds of toxins, including cancer-causing 1,3 butadiene, benzene and ethylene oxide. Most releases were in Jefferson and Harris counties.

While exposure to these chemicals can be harmful, many factors including wind direction and the duration of the release influence whether such incidents affect human health. So far, the state’s environmental agency said it has not seen any air emissions of concern.

Environmentalists, however, objected when Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday suspended dozens of environmental rules related to air pollution, wastewater and fuel standards for vehicles, just as his office did for seven months after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requested the suspensions, saying the rules “prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the severe weather and flooding event.” The suspension applies to the counties declared a state of disaster.

Environmentalists said Abbott’s move was overly broad and “ill-conceived.”

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

Plan to transport nuclear waste to West Texas draws concern

An inflatable life-size model of casks used to transport nuclear waste material is displayed near the intersection of Main Street and Industrial Sept. 29, 2018. Photo: James Durbin.

A proposal to send high-level nuclear waste to West Texas may seem like something Houstonians shouldn’t worry about. But if approved, some of the state’s largest metro areas could be in the path of thousands of shipments of radioactive materials as they make their way from plants across the country.

Interim Storage Partners, formed by Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists LLC, is applying for an initial 40-year license to eventually store 40,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel in an existing facility in Andrews County.

Those in favor say it will save taxpayers money and provide a temporary solution to the decades-old impasse over finding a permanent storage solution for the country’s nuclear waste. But critics, made up of an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, ranchers and some in the oil industry, say the plan is not worth the risk of exposure en route to, or at, the storage site

So far, the plan appears to be moving forward.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

Texas students cite Imelda at global climate strike Friday

A crowd listens to students talk during the Houston Climate Strike at City Hall on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 in Houston. Photo: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Several hundred young people rallied Friday on the steps of City Hall, calling on politicians to take radical action to address the rapidly warming climate in an event that took on new urgency in the wake of Tropical Storm Imelda.

Teen organizers from several area high schools led the Houston rally, where students planned to strike from school until flash floods caused by the remnants of Imelda forced many area school districts to close anyway.

The event was part of a broader one coordinated in cities across the country and the globe, from Austin to Sydney, ahead of the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City on Monday.

In Austin, hundreds of protesters took to the steps of the Texas Capitol to demand government action on climate change.

With about 5,000 events in more than 150 countries and millions of participants, organizers from hailed Friday as “an extraordinary show of global power.” Youth groups planned strikes in more than 20 Texas cities, including San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and El Paso.

In Houston, a coalition of youth-led groups, including Climate Strike TX, 350 Houston and March for Our Lives Houston, organized the event at City Hall.

“We stand before you as students who are no longer going to receive an unexcused absence for our presence at the strike today,” said Madeline Canfield, 17, citing the school closures.

“Although we appreciate this small perk,” she said, “we also recognize that it is severe weather like this storm that reminds us of the urgency that surrounds the climate crisis.”

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

Crosby plant explosion decimated building, investigators find

FILE – Firefighters spray water at the location of the KMCO fire, which killed one and injured two on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 in Crosby. Photo: Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

The April explosion at a Crosby chemical plant that killed one worker was so powerful that it obliterated the building’s entrance and injured more than 30, including two who were severely burned, a government report reveals.

“Shrapnel,” is how one of the emergency responders described the building to investigators after the explosion. “There was nothing left of it. Wires, there was nothing there. There wasn’t a building there anymore.”

The details were published in a preliminary report released Tuesday and based on the work of investigators with the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents.

The April 2 fire was the third involving chemicals in the Houston area in as many weeks, starting with one at Exxon Mobil on March 16 and at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. the following day. While no injuries were reported, the Exxon Mobil facility in Baytown emitted large amounts of pollution days after the fire was out and it took days to put out the Deer Park ITC fire, sending a large plume of smoke visible for miles and at one point closing the Houston Ship Channel.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.

Harris County sues Houston refinery over recent toxic gas release

The sun sets behind the LyondellBasell Houston Refinery, one of the businesses on the list of high harm facilities, Thursday, April 14, 2016 in Houston. Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff Photographer / Houston Chronicle

A Houston refinery is facing its second environmental lawsuit in as many years after releasing more than 320,000 pounds of toxic gases last week, the latest in a long list of violations that state officials contend has become a pattern for the company.

On Sept. 3, Houston Refining LP suffered a loss of power, possibly caused by a bird, leading to the release of 323,382 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 3,797 pounds of hydrogen sulfide over nearly nine hours. This was the sixth unauthorized release of pollutants that the company reported to the state so far this year.

As a result, Harris County filed a lawsuit this week against the company, alleging violations of the Texas Clean Air Act. The lawsuit is seeking injunctive relief, court costs and attorneys’ fees.

“We filed a lawsuit because of the particular size of this event and the compounds that are involved are alarming,” said Rock Owens, managing attorney for the Harris County attorney’s environmental section.

Continue reading at the Houston Chronicle.