On Sunday, 17 March 2019, a fire erupted at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC, Deer Park, La Porte, TX, USA), resulting in a large fire that blazed for several days. In response, we rapidly launched disaster response activities to monitor air pollutants (total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), black carbon (BC), and ultra-fine particles (UFPs) during the fire in two affected communities. To assess immediate health effects and residential air quality, we also rapidly launched a pilot study, the Deer Park Chemical Fire (DeeP Fire) Study, in which we administered health surveys and installed samplers to monitor air quality outdoors of resident homes for up to six weeks. In both communities, mean ambient concentrations of PM2.5, BC and TVOCs were higher during the first week of the fire than a week after it was extinguished. Thirteen residents participated in the DeeP Fire Study. Most residents reported experiencing respiratory symptoms and some reported being bothered by at least one post-traumatic stress disorder symptom during the fire and two weeks afterwards. In the months following the fire, the 7-day mean ambient concentration of benzene from 12 homes was 0.13 ± 0.10 parts per billion (ppb) and the 6-week mean ambient concentrations of PM2.5 and TVOCs were 13 ± 6 µg/m3 and 108 ± 98 ppb, respectively. All residents requested and received individualized air monitoring reports. Surveillance systems that enable real-time monitoring of the environmental health impact during a major industrial incident are needed to provide timely information to adequately respond to a disaster in the future.
Keywords: ITC fire; air pollution; benzene; black carbon (BC); disaster response; health surveys; particulate matter (PM); volatile organic compounds (VOCs).