Deer Park Fire: Plume could be like putting face in exhaust pipe, UH professor says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A University of Houston professor warns the impact from the ITC facility fire could reach as far as 100 miles away.

Local leaders said there may not be an immediate health risk associated with the fire in Deer Park. Professor Robert Talbot said people, though, should be worried about where the plume will fall.

"It would be like putting your face in the exhaust pipe of a diesel truck and breathing that for hours, and hours, and hours," Talbot said.

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The UH professor has monitored the plume since the fire started Sunday. He has a machine that monitors mercury.

"We were seeing levels approximately four or five times higher than Saturday, when air wasn't contaminated," Talbot said.

Talbot said his test doesn't reveal other dangerous compounds that might be in the plume. But based on the material that ITC says is burning, he believes there's reason to be concerned.

It's not just in Houston. If it falls in a large amount, Talbot said cities outside of the metro area could be impacted.

"Maybe 30 miles, 50 miles, a 100 miles from Houston," Talbot said.

Talbot said best case is a storm or strong winds disperses the plume. He isn't sure when particulars could fall.

With the dangers lurking above, there are ways to monitor air quality from home. Air Alliance Houston said for upwards of $500, you can buy a machine.

The group uses a product known as "Purple Air," which costs around $200.

"We do use it," Air Alliance Houston research and policy director Corey Williams said. "We offer it to residents who are concerned about particulate matter levels."

The device requires a power and WiFi source. Once placed at head level, it detects air particles.

One reason Air Alliance Houston likes the "Purple Air" option is it allows users to upload data to a website and view other readers.

"Relative to one another, they're very accurate," Williams said.

Since Sunday, the group said monitors are showing elevated air quality risks from the fire.

"This isn't particularly unusual, but it is higher than we would like to see it," Williams said.

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