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SOURCE: Bloomberg

DATE: March 22, 2019

SNIP: Oil byproducts from a damaged storage facility contaminated the Houston Ship Channel and created a cloud of cancer-causing benzene over the waterway, the latest mutation of one of the worst Gulf Coast chemical disasters in more than a decade.

The U.S. Coast Guard is forbidding vessel traffic on a stretch of the key industrial shipping route after a wall collapse and fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s already-damaged chemical storage complex on Friday. A mix of toxic gasoline ingredients, firefighting foam and dirty water flowed from the site into the channel, and a benzene plume above the water poses a threat to ship crews, said Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt.

The channel … is the newest victim of a calamity that began unfolding almost a week ago when tanks holding byproducts of the oil-refining process at ITC’s facility erupted in flames. A mile-high plume of inky black smoke towered over the fourth-largest American city for days until crews extinguished the blaze on March 20.

That was followed by benzene alerts that shut down Deer Park and other suburbs for half a day, the collapse of a containment wall and Friday’s new fires in three wrecked storage tanks and a drainage ditch.

Nausea, headaches and other symptoms drove about 1,000 people to seek treatment at a pop-up clinic, with 15 of the most-severe cases loaded onto ambulances and hauled to hospital emergency rooms.

“It’s been a never-ending, re-occurring case of things not working out as planned,” Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton said during a media briefing on Saturday.

“There’s more tanks in there. Is it going to reignite? It’s very uncertain,” said Mercy Reyna, 50, who’s been suffering from headaches, eye discomfort and chest tightness. “The trust is not there. We feel like we’re not being told the truth of what’s going on.”

The ship channel is one of the busiest commercial shipping facilities in North America, connecting Houston’s manufacturing and oil-refining nexus to Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.