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Cloud of Cancer-Causing Chemical Hangs Over the Houston Channel

  • ‘Trust is not there’ as chemical calamity enters seventh day
  • Coast Guard says top concern is benzene threat to ship crews
Residents look on at the plume of smoke rising from a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals petrochemical storage site in Deer Park, Texas on March 19.

Residents look on at the plume of smoke rising from a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals petrochemical storage site in Deer Park, Texas on March 19.

Photographer: Scott Dalton/Bloomberg
Updated on

Oil byproducts from a damaged storage facility contaminated the Houston Ship Channel and created a cloud of cancer-causing benzene over the waterway, the latest mutation of one of the worst Gulf Coast chemical disasters in more than a decade.

The U.S. Coast Guard is forbidding vessel traffic on a stretch of the key industrial shipping route after a wall collapse and fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s already-damaged chemical storage complex on Friday. A mix of toxic gasoline ingredients, firefighting foam and dirty water flowed from the site into the channel, and a benzene plume above the water poses a threat to ship crews, said Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt.