Texas petrochemical fire prompts hundreds to visit health clinic

DEER PARK, Texas (Reuters) – Hundreds of neighborhood residents of a petrochemical plant that burned for three days and briefly emitted cancer-causing benzene into the air brought their coughs, headaches and other symptoms to a mobile clinic on Friday set up by local health officials.

Smoke rises from a fire burning at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, east of Houston, Texas, U.S., March 18, 2019. Jaimie Meldrum/@jamiejow/Handout via REUTERS A

While some of the symptoms people complained of are consistent with exposure to chemicals, health officials said they treated a wide variety of ailments, including the anxiety that comes with living near an industrial accident.

“The community is literally right next door to the plant,” said Les Becker, director of operations for Harris County Public Health, at the clinic which was set up near the site of the blaze. “It’s natural and normal to be afraid.”

The blaze from 11 burning fuel tanks at Mitsui unit Intercontinental Terminals Co, which began on Monday, sent up a plume of black smoke that obscured part of the sky until it was put out on Wednesday.

On Thursday, however, residents of Deer Park and nearby Galena Park, both just east of Houston, were told to shelter in place for about eight hours after reports of high levels of benzene or other volatile organic compounds were detected. No injuries were reported.

The fire re-ignited on Friday, but was quickly put out.

One woman who came to the clinic, Marlene Beltran, 20, a University of Houston student, complained of headaches, dizziness and light-headedness.

“I’ve lived here for 13 years and it’s never been a concern, she said. “I always thought things were under control. This has never happened.”

A man who came to the clinic, Walter Levine, 53, a former truck driver, complained of headaches, coughing and nausea.

The American Cancer Society website says long-term exposure to benzene, a colorless chemical with a sweet odor, is known to cause cancer, in particular leukemia, as well as anemia and other blood ailments.

Symptoms commonly associated with exposure to benzene and other chemicals include coughing, difficulty breathing, burning, headaches, nausea, dizziness and irritation to eyes, ears, nose and throat, Harris County Public Health spokeswoman Elizabeth Perez said.

She said officials were still analyzing patients’ data.

“People came in for a wide variety of reasons,” Perez said by telephone. “There were individuals who could have showed up because of some respiratory issues. But it didn’t mean that it was because of this event.”

The mobile unit, one of nine that county officials use to provide free health services, was visited by 300 people in Deer Park on Thursday and 500 on Friday, officials said.

Reporting by Collin Eaton in Deer Park, Texas; Writing and additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler


more recommended stories

  • Coal miners to urge Congress to protect their black lung benefits

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Around 120 coal.

  • Congo minister’s resignation over Ebola snub could unblock new vaccine

    GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters).

  • Trump administration pauses new rule limiting abortion referrals: report

    FILE PHOTO: A Missouri state flag.

  • African swine fever hits pig farm in northeast Bulgaria

    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria reported on.

  • Biohaven’s treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease fails to win FDA nod

    FILE PHOTO: The logo for Biohaven.

  • WHO says investigators conclude Ebola victim did not enter Rwanda

    GENEVA (Reuters) – A Congolese woman.

  • Second opioid distributor charged over U.S. overdose crisis

    (Reuters) – An Ohio drug wholesale.

  • U.S. overdose deaths post annual drop for first time in two decades

    (Reuters) – U.S. overdose deaths dropped.

  • FDA finds ‘significant violations’ at India’s Strides plant

    (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and.

  • U.N. wants more urgency in AIDS fight as gains and funding fade

    LONDON (Reuters) – The global fight.

  • Oklahoma seeks to hold J&J responsible for opioid crisis as trial ends

    NORMAN, Okla. (Reuters) – Lawyers for.

  • Healthy living may help offset genetic risk of dementia: study

    LONDON (Reuters) – Living healthily with.

  • Democrats take aim as Trump abandons drug pricing plan

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats see U.S..

  • U.S. appeals court blocks Trump administration birth control exemptions

    (Reuters) – A federal appeals court.

  • China vows to tackle dead pig scam amid swine fever epidemic

    FILE PHOTO: Piglets are seen by.

  • Alberta joins Ontario in pulling some CannTrust weed products

    TORONTO (Reuters) – Alberta is placing.

  • Trump administration pushes U.S. at-home kidney care, transplant availability

    NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump.

  • U.S. appeals court signals sympathy to bid to strike down Obamacare

    NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – A federal.

  • U.S. judge strikes down Trump administration rule requiring drug prices in TV ads

    (Reuters) – A federal judge on.

  • Intra-Cellular drug fails one of two bipolar depression studies; shares fall

    (Reuters) – Intra-Cellular Therapies Inc said.

  • China reports new African swine fever outbreak in Guangxi region

    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s southwestern region.

  • Weed ban means no Rocky Mountain high for Canada’s Calgary Stampede

    CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Canada’s Calgary.

  • Weightlifting better at reducing heart fat than aerobic exercise

    Obese people who engaged in resistance.

  • Sydney’s city council reviews use of Bayer’s Roundup weed killer amid cancer fears

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Sydney’s city council.

  • Bulgaria confirms two cases of African swine fever

    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria has confirmed.

  • FDA approves Karyopharm Therapeutics’ blood cancer drug

    (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and.

  • Facebook to tackle content with misleading health claims

    FILE PHOTO: The Facebook logo is.

  • FDA ties three deaths to Edwards Lifesciences’ recalled heart devices

    (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and.

  • India asks its states not to partner with Philip Morris-funded foundation

    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s health.

  • U.S. federal court delays adoption of healthcare rule on abortion

    FILE PHOTO – A imaging table.

  • China tightens vaccine management after scandals

    FILE PHOTO – A nurse prepares.

  • U.S wages lost to unpaid family care to hit $147 billion by 2050

    As the U.S. population ages, the.