The massive fire that has been raging at a petrochemical storage facility in Deer Park, Texas since Sunday was finally extinguished early yesterday morning.
The incident forced the closure of nearby schools and residents were advised to limit time spent outdoors.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time that the region has seen such a disaster, and it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that it will be the last.
The Houston area has seen a number of such catastrophes due to the high density of chemical plants and refineries in the region, all of which now face increased threats from natural disasters fueled by climate change in addition to the inherent dangers that come from working with, processing, and storing volatile substances.
“We’re living through an ongoing petrochemical disaster, and the government response is … that the poison we can smell and taste for ourselves isn’t harming our health and our children. Officials needs to be honest with the public … ITC needs to be held accountable and the regional public officials need to take a serious look at the Chemical Disaster Risk that exists along the Houston Ship Channel and prioritize the health and well being of surrounding communities.”Bryan Parras, Sierra Club
Just last year, the Arkema chemical plant fell victim to floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey which caused the critical degradation of toxic chemicals inside the facility, resulting in similar towers of toxic smoke being released into the atmosphere.
That hurricane alone brought 15 trillion tons of floodwater to the Houston area in 2018, and scientists agree that storms of the same or even greater magnitude are likely to increase in frequency as long as we continue to stall on implementing radical climate policy.
According to the Sierra Club, there are approximately 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries, and more than 6,670 miles of crisscrossing oil, gas, and chemical pipelines in what they call “the nation’s largest energy corridor.”
By their measure, roughly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with the storm surge and flooded through a single chemical plant in Baytown near Galveston Bay.
These types of events are not only becoming more frequent, but more widespread, as well.
Nearly the entirety of southern Africa was just decimated by a cyclone that dropped a year’s worth of rain in the span of a few days, killing hundreds and displacing millions.
And climate scientists agree that the storm is consistent with models of climate change.
The time to divest and to radically overhaul our infrastructure is now; the continued use of fossil fuels promises nothing but more death and disaster, both for our communities and for our environment.