TEXAS: Japanese-Owned Company Fined $6.6M for Hazmat Fire

Deer Park terminal

DEER PARK, Texas, April 5, 2024 (ENS) – The Japanese-owned Intercontinental Terminals Company has agreed to pay more than US$6.6 million to federal and Texas state natural resource trustees over natural resource damages from a three-day fire at ITC’s Deer Park terminal facility near Houston that released tons of hazardous chemicals.

Intercontinental Terminals is the largest wholly-owned subsidiary of Mitsui & Co., Ltd., a diversified global trading, investment, and service enterprise based in Tokyo, Japan.

On Sunday, March 17, 2019, an ITC storage tank caught fire, and the blaze spread to many other tanks at the Intercontinental Terminals facility in Deer Park, a Houston suburb of 35,000. With a nature preserve and 28 city parks, the city hosts armadillos, bobcats, migratory birds, and visitors who want to relax in a leafy setting. The hazmat fire was a disaster.

After it burned for three days, the fire was initially extinguished on March 20, but reignited on March 22, damaging a second containment wall of the tank facility.

After the Deer Park fire, the burned out ITC storage tanks sit in the Texas sun. March 2019 (U.S. Coast Guard photo by PA2 Johanna Strickland)

This caused a catastrophic breach releasing into the environment an estimated 470,000 to 523,000 barrels of a mixture of fire water, different firefighting aqueous film forming foams which contain forever chemicals, and oil products from the storage tanks.

Designated federal and state trustees found that the hazardous substances caused what Justice Department prosecutors called “significant injuries to ecological resources and services, including birds and marsh and riparian habitat areas.”

In addition, the hazardous chemicals released into air and water resulted in lost recreational opportunities in the Deer Park area, including temporary closures of state, county and city parks and the Lynchburg Ferry.

A complaint filed with the proposed settlement agreement seeks money damages and costs from ITC under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, known as CERCLA.

In an earlier related CERCLA enforcement action, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Justice Department secured an administrative settlement with ITC for $5.25 million to reimburse the United States for costs in responding to the releases from the fire at ITC’s facility.

The current $6.6 million settlement will be used to compensate the public for natural resource injuries, reimburse trustee agencies for the costs of assessment, and fund the restoration planning and oversight.

After a process that includes public comment, the trustees will use the funds for natural resource restoration projects to address ecological injuries and enhance recreational use to address lost human use of the damaged resources.

“This settlement will help repair, in part, the devastating environmental damage caused by the release of hazardous substances from ITC’s Deer Park facility,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. “I am committed to the restoration of clean waterways and a diverse ecosystem to benefit the residents of Deer Park.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is pleased with the natural resource damages settlement. “This fire burned for three days, spewing hazardous chemicals into our air, water, and land. Texas’s environmental enforcement suit against ITC is still pending. All companies operating in our state must take the utmost precaution to prevent any such disaster from harming our citizens and our environment,” he said.

The designated federal trustees are NOAA and the Department of the Interior through the Fish and Wildlife Service. The state trustees are the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas General Land Office.

The proposed consent decree was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The decree and information on how to submit a public comment is here on the Justice Department’s website.

Featured image: More than 1,100 federal, state, and local first responders, agencies, and environmental cleanup contractors were on the scene assessing, booming, and removing hazardous materials. March 2019, Deer Park, Texas (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

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