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For years, the EPA and Texas ignored warning signs at a chemical storage site. Then an inferno erupted.

Regulators repeatedly documented — but did little to address — problems at a Houston-area tank farm. Then on March 17, 2019, a fire blew through a corner of the facility, releasing toxic chemicals into nearby communities for weeks.

By David Leffler and Savanna Strott, Public Health Watch

Danny Hardy inside the worship center at First Baptist Church in Deer Park, Texas, on February 6, 2023. As the church’s head of security, Hardy was tasked with protecting his congregation in the fire’s earliest hours. “All of a sudden, alarms on our phones started going off,” he said. “We knew it was a fire and it was pretty major.”
Barges float through the Houston Ship Channel’s murky waters next to the ITC facility on February 13, 2023 in Deer Park, Texas.
Tim Doty, a former mobile air monitoring expert for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, at his home in Driftwood, Texas on April 11, 2023. Doty documented excessive benzene emissions near ITC’s “2nd 80’s” section for nearly a decade, but watched in frustration as the chemical storage facility repeatedly escaped enforcement.
Elvia Guevara (left) washes dishes before her grandson’s Spiderman-themed 1st birthday party on February 11, 2023 in Pasadena, Texas. Her family moved to Deer Park in 2008. “We always wanted to live here,” she said, “because the school districts are good and it’s safe and clean.”
Debbie Ford sits in her home in Richardson, Texas on March 24, 2023. Despite serving as EPA Region 6’s tank expert for more than a decade, Ford was given little input on the region’s multiple inspections at ITC. Now retired, she still wonders if the fire could have been prevented by stronger enforcement and oversight from the EPA.
Eddie Guevara (second from the left) and his family in the backyard of their home in Pasadena, Texas, on February 21, 2023. The petrochemical industry has been good to Eddie, but he has always been aware of its dangers. “I always took being clean seriously,” he said, “especially working at a chemical plant where you could potentially carry these hazardous substances with you.”
Firefighters struggle to extinguish the towering flames pouring out of ITC’s tank 80-8 on the afternoon of March 17, 2019. The fire would blow through the entire “2nd 80’s” section of the facility.

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