Although Deer Park and Galena Park in Houston have lifted their shelter in place orders due to benzene levels in the air, residents in the Houston area are still concerned about air quality. Here’s a quick look at what’s happening and where to go to monitor air quality in the Houston region after the ITC Deer Park fire.
Earlier on Thursday, Deer Park and Galena Park issued shelter in place orders after discovering increased levels of benzene in from the petrochemical fire. Now Deer Park officials have lifted the order after a “sustained period of improved readings,” Houston Public Media reported.
Shortly after, the shelter in place in Galena Park was lifted also.
How To Monitor Benzene Levels
The Texas threshold for benzene levels is 180 ppb, Texas Tribune reported in 2017. California’s limit, however, is 8 ppb.
ReadyHarris.org has a website with current air quality monitoring especially for the Deer Park fire and benzene levels here. Areas marked green are 0 ppb to .499 ppm. Yellow is .500 ppm to .999 ppm. Red is 1 ppm and above. Here is the current map as of 3:30 p.m. Central:
For an updated map with benzene level monitoring, visit the Current Air Quality Monitoring page here. You can enter your address into the map to find out the specific air quality near you.
You can also monitor benzene levels at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality website here. Under “Select a Site” be sure to pick your area from the dropdown menu, and also select today’s date. You can also clear everything but benzene under advanced options. When we selected March 21, Houston Deer Park, benzene only, measured in ppb, Heavy saw noon levels at 3.92 ppb, compared to 190.b8 ppb at 4 a.m. (Remember, this is ppb, not ppm. The Texas threshold for safe benzene is 180 ppb, so around 4 a.m. levels were above that slightly. California’s threshold is 8 ppb.) Here’s a screenshot of the results at 3:50 p.m. Central:
You can also find details about daily monitoring, including how benzene levels changed after the fire, here.
How To Monitor Other Air Quality Incidents in Houston & Other Regions
Another air quality map for Houston, which monitors ozone and particulate levels (NOT benzene) is here, provided by the EPA. This map marks the area as “moderate” not good (which would be green). The Air Quality Index is ranked as “Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.” Tomorrow’s is predicted to be orange (USG) which means: “Active children and adults, and people with lung disease, such as asthma, should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.”
Another set of Houston air quality maps can be found here. These measure ozone and other pollutants, but not benzene.
Houston Press reported in 2017, when benzene levels were higher after Hurricane Harvey, that short-term exposure to benzene can cause a person to feel dizzy, confused, have a racing heart, headache, and tremors. Long-term exposure can damage the immune system, cause anemia, and increase the chance of developing certain kinds of cancer like leukemia.
If you think you’ve suffered loss or injury as a result of the fire, you can fill out a claim form here. Deer Park is sharing continuous updates here. If you think you are suffering any symptoms from benzene, whether or not you’re in an area deemed to have safe levels, you should visit a doctor right away.