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Texas sues the fuel tanker company over Houston Chemical Fire, the aftermath



(Reuters) – Texas officials Tuesday sued the owners of a Houston petrochemical storage facility over a fire last week that burned for several days, allegedly violating environmental laws and seeking damages to cover response costs for the disaster discharging chemicals into the air and the waterways.

The county and state initiated a joint suit in a district court against Mitsui & Co.'s intercontinental terminals Co. The costume seeks compensation for the costs of emergency rooms, temporary air and water monitoring systems and health care workers. An accountant will determine the costs, officials said.

"We have worked with state and federal partners to hold the ITC responsible for the damage," said Hina County's board member Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday at a hearing where local residents responded to the disaster that sent lots of carbon monoxide in the air and chemicals to waterway. Schools were closed and visits to area hospitals and clinics nailed.

Federal and state officials were already investigating the company as emergency workers pumping fuels from 1

1 damaged or destroyed tanks that extinguished the fuels out of the site. The fire began on March 17 and spread among rows of giant tanks that can hold up to 80,000 barrels of fuel.

The ITC apologizes for the incident but defended its response and says that the facility complies with the industry and fire control guidelines set by industry groups.

The splitting of fuels, water and fire-fighting foam from the site stopped traffic on a stretch of the Houston Ship Channel connecting Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. Restrictions on travel near the ITC website forced at least two refineries to reduce production.

Unless oil tankers can reach Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Deer Park, Texas, this weekend's refinery, it could be forced to shut down, people familiar with

Schools in the Houston Suburbs were closed for several days after air quality monitors discovered elevated levels of benzene, a carcinogenic chemical found in ITC tanks that burned.

"Until these people are in prison, you will not see what needs to be done to keep these communities protected," said County Commissioner Steve Radack at a hearing where officials approved the trial.

More than 1,000 patients visited a county health clinic last week, said Elizabeth Perez, a spokesman for Harris County Public Health. Local hospitals also reported more visitors, she said.

Arrivals complained of respiratory and other diseases.

"We were worried about the most immediate effects, breathing problems, burning eyes, ears and throat, especially for those who were closer to the event and who had existing conditions," Perez said.


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