February 24, 2015
White dust covers Galveston county area
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Cheryl Farrell moved from the Woodlands to the water.
“It’s beautiful down here. It’s a very nice place to live,” said Farrell.
Farrell and her husband live in Lamarck, just north of Galveston Island, place where a seabreeze can be refreshing. The last month, a breeze brought something else. Neighbor started calling each other and checking the communities online message board, asking what is that stuff blowing into our houses and yards in cars?
“I walk out and I saw the black cover on the charcoal grill and it was covered in that white powder. By that afternoon. It was everywhere. It was not like a talcum powder, it was grittier than a talcum powder,” Farrell.
The white powder was coming from about 2 miles away from what had been the notorious BP Texas City refinery, site of deadly explosions. The refinery is now owned and operated by division of Marathon petroleum. The company would later tell Texas environmental officials that a malfunction cause the release of something called “catalyst fines.”
That’s a compound made of ultrafine sand as well as aluminum. It’s used to refine crude oil into gasoline. The catalyst dust spewed out a smokestack for nearly 24 hours. In all, the company estimates it lost 216,000 pounds. That’s over 100 tons, another to fill about 14 dump trucks.
Catalytic fines are offshoot particles resulting from the refining of oil. The particle vary in shape, size, density, composition and hardness. The particles are normally aluminum silicates form from aluminum and silicon oxidize. The particles participate in the cracking process for catalytic effect, and are recover from the process and recycled. The recycling, however, is not 100% effective a certain level of Lines will always be present in the output product of a catalytic cracker.
An emission event where catalytic fine particles dispersed over a wide range such as that of Galveston County would lead one to believe that a refinery experienced a machinery defect or personnel negligence.
No one knows exactly how much landed on the communities. But to get rid of it, Marathon pay to spray wash 700 cars and about the same number of homes. Now, a month later, the white dust seems to have mostly washed away, but in these waterfront neighborhoods, some people are finding it hard to relax.
Open quote what government official proof washing the stuff off our houses into our canals and back into our marshes,” asked resident Bill Spinney.
He was helping lead a discussion up among a couple dozen residents who met after work at the Bayou Vista community center. Spinney got a hold of a copy of a material safety data sheet (MSD), a government required document in which Marathon spells out the dangers of the catalyst compound. The MSD talks about how the catalyst, should not be flushed down sewers, water, soil, or into waterways. It warns that the catalyst might burn the lungs, cause allergic reactions, and could be a “cancer hazard.”
Not only will this chemical spill affect the citizens of Galveston, but very likely the surrounding animal habitat and the food we eat in the city of Houston proper.
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