TX City chemical levels too high to be read by equipment

April 26, 2011 7:30:16 PM PDT
We have new information on what was being released into the air after a power outage affected a chemical plant and three refineries in Texas City. The outage forced the plants into backup mode and they started burning off chemicals. We first told you about the outage Monday night, and a shelter-in-place was ordered and later lifted Tuesday afternoon.

Apparently, excess salt on power lines is to blame and on Tuesday afternoon we saw crews cleaning the lines.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality now says the air on Tuesday morning in Texas City was so toxic that monitoring equipment couldn't go high enough to detect it all. The meters were pegged. That despite the fact we were told by at least three separate Texas City first responders that monitors didn't find anything out of the ordinary following the flares.

"It went bam and then in went up in flames," said Texas City resident Khristina Kelley. "It was a huge fire."

She lives close enough to the Texas City refineries to know without being told when there's a problem.

And last night she and all her neighbors knew there was a problem.

"The flares were extremely high; you could read a book out here," said Texas City resident Byron Rhoades.

Four plants were shut down. All of them were forced to flare or burn off whatever was in their pipes to remove the threat of an explosion. But when you do that, it releases potentially toxic chemicals.

"My eyes were burning. I had respiratory problems," said Rhoades.

He says he got those problems while inside his house following orders to shelter-in-place.

Texas City resident Analiese Gonzales had a similar reaction.

"I felt nauseated, real sick, lightheaded -- real bad. It started from the smell last night. I got a headache, but in the morning, it came back to me; I started throwing up," she said.

Scary, says Gonzales, because she's nine-months pregnant. She's one of at least 25 people who went to the Mainland Medical Center in Texas City complaining of respiratory problems.

"Symptoms were ear tingling, scratchiness," said Dr. Robin Armstrong of the Hospital of the Mainland.

And yet all day from Texas City we heard the shelter-in-place was a precaution.

Texas City Fire Department monitors never detected a thing.

"We got no readings," said Texas City Fire Department Captain Robert Ebert.

"It is absolutely unreasonable to believe that no one is being exposed to anything," said Matthew Tejada of the Houston Air Alliance.

When Tejada heard what Texas City was saying earlier Tuesday, he didn't believe it and said residents shouldn't either.

The late word from TCEQ of extremely high levels of toxic air confirmed his suspicion. He says the area needs real time monitoring for all to see.

"Until we start using all of the new monitoring technologies and until they're made transparent, there is little faith the community should put in one of those monitors," said Tejada.

We still don't know exactly what was released. Companies don't have to report for 24 hours after a release. But Byron Rhoades doesn't have to wait to know monitors didn't find what his own body did.

"I have problems breathing right now from last night. There is something in the air. You can't tell me there's not," Rhoades said.

Texas City says they weren't told about the TCEQ results until Tuesday afternoon. TCEQ says it passed the info on before 10am. But residents never knew until we told them.


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