'Tox-Doc' says shelter-in-place should've been ordered amid Marathon Petroleum plant fire

Chauncy Glover Image
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Why was shelter-in-place not in effect in plant fire?
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We now know what was burning in the fire at Marathon Petroleum, but now the question is why a shelter-in-place was not issued.

TEXAS CITY, Texas (KTRK) -- Marathon Petroleum officials say they are still monitoring the air quality in the Texas City area after Monday's fire, in which we now know what was burning. According to Marathon Petroleum officials, hydrocarbon Naphtha is what was burning.

"It's component that has a lot of waxes or paraffin's and benzene's or benzene that we know are carcinogens, so it's like a combination of what they're using to refine down and create several products," Tox Doc, Dr. Noreen Khan-Mayberry said.

Dr. Khan-Mayberry says those smoke particles can be dangerous. But in a Facebook post on Monday, the Texas City Police Department announced a shelter-in-place for the surrounding community wasn't necessary. Normally, that decision comes from the Office of Emergency Management. They make the decision based on information they get from the company and also what they may see or experience when they have reps on site of the fire.

Dr. Khan-Mayberry says this is reminiscent of the March 2019 ITC plant fire, in which our partners at the Texas Tribune uncovered high benzene levels lingered in the air for two weeks after public health measures and shelter-in-place warnings were lifted.

When it comes to Monday's Marathon plant fire, the experts we spoke to say if the company knew Naphtha was burning, a shelter-in-place should have been issued.

"It's always easier to figure out after, even though, when they know which unit blows up or ignites, they know exactly what's in that unit and what's burning in those units. So they know that quickly. It's not like these are unlabeled and take them a long time to find out," Dr. Khan-Mayberry said. "So, yes, I definitely think that precautions should've been put in place, in terms of 'Hey, there's a fire, there's been an explosion in the unit,' and there should be a shelter in place, at least for a few hours until you can get TCEQ out there and start doing some real air monitoring."

Eyewitness News reached out to the Office of Emergency Management as well as the Texas City Police Department to see why a shelter-in-place wasn't issued, but we haven't heard back.

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