LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

TEXAS CITY, Texas A state agency said air quality monitor readings in Texas City were too high for their instruments to measure around 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The state investigators arrived in Texas City after a series of power outages at three refineries and two chemical plants.

Texas City officials sent out an automated message saying that a Level 3 emergency had been declared at the BP plant, and a shelter-in-place order was issued.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigators were using handheld monitors called mini-raes to measure volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

Maximum readings taken by TCEQ staff were in excess of the instruments measurement capability (greater than 999 ppm VOC), therefore we cannot quantify the readings during the shelter in place period, they said in a written statement late Tuesday.

The trouble started around 11 p.m. Monday when the power went out at Dow Chemical and BP s Texas City refinery and chemical plant.

BP had all of their flares going at once overnight to burn off their excess product in order to prevent any buildup that could cause an explosion, according to TJ Aulds of The Galveston County Daily News.

BP spokesman Michael Marr said a fire broke out at the refinery shortly after they lost power, but crews were able to put it out. There were no injuries at the refinery, Marr said.

The alert was lowered to a Level 2 monitoring situation and the shelter-in-place was lifted around 3 a.m., Office of Emergency Management Director Bruce Clawson said.

But then, around 4:40 a.m., power went out at the Valero and Marathon Oil refineries.
Sirens went off at Valero at 5:25 a.m., and a second shelter-in-place order was issued.
After power went down at Valero and Marathon, both facilities activated their flare systems.

Clawson said Marathon had its power situation under control quickly, but power wasn t restored at Valero until just before 9:30 a.m.

The final shelter-in-place was lifted late Tuesday morning, more than 12 hours after the problems started.

Centerpoint Energy confirmed Tuesday that power outages stem from sea salt that can quickly and easily corrode the insulators on power lines. Rain is the usual fix, but there has been a drought lately.

Centerpoint began a cleaning program in the past few days to try and prevent problems by washing its lines and insulators near the sea.

That is what Texas New Mexico power started doing Tuesday morning in Texas City.
Crews power washed and scrubbed by hand giant power insulators.

Centerpoint said it will continue to have maintenance crews out washing down power lines and insulators until there is a solid rain. It is mostly a problem in the coastal areas, but the salt can build up inland as well.

Some residents who live near the plants said the outages and burn-offs made them nervous.

For one thing, I m too close to this plant and all this stuff that it will release and I ve been coughing a lot and sick a lot. And I think that has a lot to do with it. So I just want to move my family a little farther away from here, Valencia Mills said.

Officials at the Mainland Medical Center said 20 people came in complaining of respiratory issues after the outages at the plants. Nineteen of those people were treated in triage, but one person was admitted to the hospital. That person was said to be in good condition.

Some residents complained of the smell on the KHOU 11 News Facebook page.

The smell is very strong! My eyes are burning & my stomach is soured. The strong winds are not helping AT ALL! one woman wrote.

Residents were advised to close their doors and windows and turn off their air conditioners until the shelter-in-place was lifted. Texas City ISD canceled classes for the day.

The Associated Press and The Galveston County Daily News contributed to this report.

Read or Share this story: http://www.khou.com/story/news/2014/07/16/11472734/