(Adds details on chemical spill, background on fires, civil lawsuits against ITC, Harris County response costs)
April 29 (Reuters) - Mitsui & Co Ltd’s Intercontinental Terminals Co faces five environmental criminal charges following a chemical fire in March at its Deer Park, Texas, petrochemical storage facility, local officials said on Monday.
ITC was charged with polluting waterways that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, according to a statement by the Harris County district attorney. ITC could face penalties of up to $100,000 for each of the five charges, according to Harris County.
ITC did not immediately return a call for comment.
After a fire caused a dike at the facility to break, “large (and still unknown) quantities” of toxic chemicals, xylene and benzene, spilled into a nearby waterway for five days, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement.
“The discharge from the ITC fire into Tucker Bayou is a clear water pollution case,” Alex Forrest, an environmental crimes division chief prosecutor with the district attorney’s office, said in a statement.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state’s environmental regulatory authority, and Harris County filed a lawsuit late last month against ITC seeking civil penalties and the recovery of Harris County’s costs of responding to the March fires.
Harris County’s response cost at least $1.9 million, after county employees devoted tens of thousands of work hours to firefighting, pollution control, public health and law enforcement departments, said Shain Carrizal, Harris County director of finance.
Inspectors from U.S. Chemical Safety Board, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ and Harris County have begun investigations into the cause of the fire, which destroyed 11 tanks.
Harris County will determine if other charges will follow after other local and federal agencies have completed their investigations, Forrest said.
Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston; Editing by Tom Brown and Marguerita Choy