Intercontinental Terminals Company faces five misdemeanor counts of water pollution in the aftermath of a plant fire in March that resulted in toxic chemicals leaking into Houston-area waterways and caused local schools to close and residents to be told to stay indoors.
The move by the office of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is part of a more aggressive approach toward chemical companies following environmental disasters that have drawn national attention, the Houston Chronicle notes.
“The discharge from the ITC fire into Tucker Bayou is a clear water pollution case,” Alex Forrest, the environmental crimes division chief for the DA’s office, said in a written statement to the Chronicle. “We are looking forward to reviewing the reports of other local and federal agencies, as they complete their investigations, so that we can determine if other charges will follow.”
ITC stores petrochemicals for such companies as Chevron, Exxon and Phillips 66. One of those storage tanks caught fire on March 17, resulting in the breach of a containment wall and allowing cancer-causing chemicals like xylene and benzene to pour into Tucker Bayou.
The DA’s office determined that water pollution reached illegal levels from March 17 to March 21, resulting in ITC facing one count of water pollution for each of those five days. The company faces up to $500,000 in fines on those charges.
Michael Goldberg, an attorney for ITC, said in a written statement to the Chronicle that “there was a large fire and an enormous effort to extinguish it, which resulted in a discharge into Tucker Bayou.”
ITC previously paid a $500 fine in a 1975 case and another $650 in 1990 for water pollution, the Chronicle noted. The company has received more than $65,000 in fines for violating federal and local environmental rules since 2009.