The Role of Press in Emission Events

When local, national, or world events occur, the press plays an important role informing the public of the significance of those events. There is a professional duty to provide accurate and understandable perspectives on the ramifications of them providing proper context for the audience to understand. Traditional media outlets such as newspapers and broadcast network news were afforded time to research stories before they were published. However, in this new, information age, online news sources and 24-hour news stations (the media) compete to be the first to release a story. This can lead to incomplete and potentially inaccurate information.

On March 17th, there was a fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) facility in the Houston area. This fire was affecting several storage tanks and was quickly isolated to only six tanks. However, the fire continued to burn for several days. The general public concerned about how long the fire burned and the dark cloud that covered areas of the city during that time.

When a contaminant is spilled on the ground or release into a body of water or the atmosphere, if the contaminant cannot be contained or removed, or if it is too dangerous to contain or remove the main course of action is to reach sufficient dilution to reduce danger . For air contaminants, they are more easily diluted when they are released at a point high in the atmosphere away from where people live. If you do not have a tall stack to release air contaminants, the best way to move the contaminants way up high is to use heat; lots of heat, since hot air rises higher and further. Though we do not know for certain, the most likely reason for letting the spilled liquids to burn is to destroy some of the contaminants and move the remainder high into the sky away from people. When the fire is extinguished and things begin to cool, the air contaminants will be closer to the ground and that poses a greater threat to the nearby community.

Another concern expressed by the media is the elevated concentration readings reported by TCEQ. While the readings are of concern, one must consider that these readings are typically taken by a fence-line monitor. Readings close to the source of the pollution have not had an opportunity to disperse. A good rule of thumb is that concentration decreases based on the square of the distance.

Additionally, there is concern from exposure to the contaminants released in this event. While these contaminants are carcinogenic, those effects are typically from long-term exposure, not single events. The primary health concerns would be acute effects such as burning of the eyes and throat. During normal operation, the risk is low as the contaminants are contained.