Residents, officials remain concerned about air quality after oil-well blowout

December 16, 2017 GMT

State officials monitoring air emissions following an oil-well blowout continue to report no health risk to area residents, but a former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigator said Friday he’s not so sure.

“I don’t think people were told the whole truth and so I’m concerned there were some misrepresentations made to the public,” Neil Carman, who worked as a TCEQ investigator for 12 years, said at a news conference.

On Dec. 6, first responders from HAZMAT teams in Harris and Fort Bend counties were dispatched to an oil-well blowout near the Fort Bend County Tollway and FM 2234. The blowout led to a chemical spill involving roughly 240,000 gallons of crude and 30,000 gallons of sludge.

After the well was capped the next day, the company that operates the site, IWR Operating, LLC, called in Haz Mat Special Services, an environmental cleanup company from La Porte, to assist with remediation. So far, crews have removed about 1,200 yards of dirt; they still have another 4,000 to 6,000 yards to remove.

Residents near the site have complained of a foul smell that causes headaches, nausea and burning eyes - problems attributed to hydrogen sulfide emissions from the blowout.

“I’m very concerned that if children are having headaches, then this is more than just an odor problem. This is a toxic air-pollution assault on children and possibly even adults,” Carman said.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said his office had been flooded with calls from concerned residents.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions and we are very concerned about the situation,” Reynolds, who called the briefing, told reporters. “We intend to hold state officials accountable until this issue is resolved.”

Houston City Councilman Larry Green, too, voiced concerns about the health effects for students who attend a nearby elementary school.

“We intend to start monitoring air quality at the campuses near this site,” Green said.

Although TCEQ officials tested the air quality near the site and said the levels were within acceptable ranges, city officials plan to install equipment and take daily measurements of hydrogen-sulfide levels at schools near the site.

“We want to make sure the air is safe for these children,” he said.

Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Joel Clouser Sr. lives in a neighborhood near the spill. He questioned why remediation efforts were taking so long.

“It’s been over a week and I’m very concerned. When is the smell going to stop?” he said. “I’m concerned there could be long-term effects from exposure to these toxic chemicals in the air.”

Carl David Evans, president of Fort Bend Houston Super Neighborhood Council 41, said he had received numerous calls a day from worried Missouri City residents and those who live in the nearby Shadow Creek Ranch subdivision in Pearland.

“I’m wondering: are we safe right now? Is the air safe for residents? People are very worried that live near the site,” he said.

Coca Dawson lives in the Quail Glenn subdivision in Missouri City. She spoke to reporters after the press conference.

“Something is going on out here. I can’t breathe. I’m coughing all the time and I feel like I’m smothering,” said Dawson, who babysits her two-year old grandson during the week. “My grandbaby started throwing up today and I’m extremely worried about this situation. No one bothers to tell us anything and everyone in my neighborhood is desperate to know what is going on. When is this going to end? It’s making everyone sick.”

TCEQ officials say they will continue to monitor air quality near the site until remediation efforts are complete.