UPDATE: Shelter in place orders have been lifted in Deer Park and nearby Galena Park.

KOUH-TV's Doug Delony and Michelle Homer report that the Deer Park order was lifted at 11:40 AM, while the Galena Park order was lifted early Thursday afternoon. The decision to lift those orders were reportedly based on the results of air quality tests by three separate organizations.


 

Deer Park, Texas officials have issued a shelter in place warning, schools have been closed, and National Guard troops have been called to the area after elevated levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds were detected near the site of a chemical storage plant fire Thursday.

Reports of elevated levels of the carcinogenic substance came after a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park - about 15 miles southeast of Houston -  burned for three days. (One of our employees who lives in Georgetown reported being able to see the thick, black cloud of smoke from the fire from his home.)

The fire was extinguished Wednesday, but KDFW-TV and the Associated Press report that flames had spread to storage tanks holding gasoline components and materials used in various chemical products by then.

In the wake of the fire, the City of Deer Park began issuing alerts to citizens asking them to shelter in place and monitor air quality levels online. An "Ask a Nurse" hotline number was distributed so citizens could call to inquire about symptoms of and treatment for benzene exposure, and officials were reminding citizens that 911 calls are strictly for emergencies.

One can only imagine the flood of calls both lines are receiving.

As reported by CBS news and the AP, Texas Environmental Protection Agency officials conducted air quality tests Wednesday and insisted that benzene levels near the chemical storage facility didn't pose a health concern.

Despite the TxEPA assurances, Deer Park and Harris County officials closed schools and roads and advised citizens to stay inside and turn off air conditioning and heating systems. Residents were asked to cover gaps, holes, and cracks with wet towels and sheets to prevent vapors from entering their homes.

According to the American Cancer Society, benzine has been linked to leukemia and other blood cell cancers.

Short term effects of benzine exposure include drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion, and/or unconsciousness.

Long term exposure can lead to damage to bone marrow, which may result in anemia, low white blood cell count, and low blood platelet count.