Chemical odor reported in 10 communities after barge crash

Saturday, May 11, 2019
Aftermath of barge crash that released chemicals into the ship channel
EMBED <>More Videos

Authorities said the barge is carrying 25,000 barrels of a gas product known as reformate.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Friday afternoon, an aroma of what smelled like turpentine drifted through the Bay Area near Kemah, Seabrook and Clear Lake.

"I thought it was coming from my car," said Jesus De La Rosa, who was fishing just off Toddville Road in Seabrook. "Then some other people said they smelled the same thing."

It was the fumes from a chemical component used in plastic manufacturing called Reformate. It is highly flammable, and toxic to marine life.

It is also toxic to humans.

Dr. Noreen Khan Mayberry, known as the "Tox Doc," said Reformate is also a carcinogen, which contains benzene and toluene.

"It shouldn't be breathed at all," Mayberry said. "It's a severe respiration hazard and it's caustic to the skin. I've heard of people who say it smells like paint thinner, and it makes sense because it has the same qualities as gasoline."

Galveston Bay Foundation CEO Bob Stokes said the odor is the result of the Reformate evaporating. "It's a light chemical and it floats on the water, which allows it to evaporate. Unlike other chemicals, it doesn't sink to the bottom, but it still poses risks to marine life."

It's also the second hit in less than two months to the Bay Area, following the ITC fire in March. "Both have short and long term impacts," said Stokes. "The chemical foam used to fight the fire may have consequences down the road."

Harris County Pollution Control was on site conducting air monitoring. The 'Tox Doc' recommended people not fish in the area, in the wake of the latest spill.

Follow Deborah Wrigley on Facebook and Twitter.