By Claire Everett | Galveston Bay Foundation
As the ITC chemical tank fire raged for days in March, two things became very clear: a large and immeasurable quantity of petrochemical and firefighting foam runoff was going straight into Tucker Bayou, and the Bay was going to be seriously impacted.
In the immediate aftermath, Galveston Bay Foundation called for transparency in all water testing surrounding the ITC incident, and we started our own independent sampling efforts. We sincerely thank our dedicated members and volunteers who helped during this difficult time.
“Our independent sampling not only provides public access to this important environmental data, but we are also supplementing data collected by incident response, ensuring adequate monitoring and documentation of the incident,” said Sarah Gossett, Robinson Water Programs Manager at Galveston Bay Foundation.
We partnered with Texas A&M University’s Superfund Research Center and Environmental Defense Fund to test the water for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), specifically PFAs, a group of chemical compounds frequently found in industrial product and firefighting foam.
PFAs are water soluble and do not break down over time, meaning they can stay in our waterways and accumulate in wildlife and the water column. They’re found in many different products, from industrial and manufacturing equipment to cookware and disposable coffee cups. While much is still unknown about PFAs and how they interact with the human body, many of these compounds are known to be harmful to humans when ingested, and have resulted in or contributed to cancer, hormone disruption, low infant birth weight and many other issues.
Unfortunately, concerning levels of PFAs were detected in our samples from the ITC incident. Overall, the results show a definite presence of many different PFAs in the Houston Ship Channel water. The highest levels were found near ITC, but even samples that were taken from the shoreline farther downstream showed levels of concern.
Because there are no federal advisories or state standards for contact recreation waters for PFAs, little monitoring has occurred within Galveston Bay. Since the ITC fire, Galveston Bay Foundation and other agencies have increased collection of PFAs levels within Galveston Bay.
“Now that we and the public are more aware of this issue, I hope we are able to use this incident to continue monitoring our Bay for these compounds, and that standards and protocols are eventually established,” Sarah said. “We need to do a better job of monitoring these levels so we can better document baseline levels and work to detect and resolve any potential problems.”
Galveston Bay Foundation will continue to work in collaboration with Texas A&M University to conduct long-term PFA monitoring in Galveston Bay. Stay up to date on any new information from the results at galvbay.org/ITC.
Bayport Channel Collision
Less than two months after the ITC chemical tank fire, a barge-ship collision in Houston Ship Channel leaked more than 9,000 barrels of gasoline product into Galveston Bay.
In the wake of incidents like this, Galveston Bay Foundation works with partner organizations to evaluate the potential impacts the spill could have on the Bay. In this case, we have been invited by the Unified Command response to serve on a Resources at Risk committee to evaluate the impact on natural resources. Director of Conservation Phillip Smith will represent Galveston Bay Foundation on the committee.
While we have had concern over industry and government testing and sampling efforts, we are confident that Unified Command has mobilized, is actively responding to the incident, and is fulfilling environmental impact and assessment needs.
On Sunday, May 12, incident responders found a fish kill on our Kemah property, which Texas Parks and Wildlife Department confirmed as the result of the Bayport Channel Collision. Galveston Bay Foundation worked with incident response on the cleanup.
Learn more at galvbay.org/Bayport-Collision.
Industrial disasters are unfortunate to say the least, but our Bay is resilient. Galveston Bay Foundation plays an essential role in advocating for the health of the Bay in times of crisis and so do you. Thank you for all of your support in response to these incidents. With your help, Galveston Bay Foundation will continue to serve as guardian of Galveston Bay.