City: Telling Everybody About the Hazardous Chemicals Stored All Over Town Wouldn’t Be Safe

Spring Branch tributary after Laverne St. Fire

A Houston Chronicle attempt to get more info about the surprise chemical warehouse fire that turned Spring Branch Creek blood red earlier this year has been denied by the city, writes Matt Dempsey this week. The city has reportedly appealed to the state attorney general’s office to block the records request, as well as the paper’s broader request for “the name and address of every facility that files a hazardous material inventory form.”

The early May fire spread from a residence on Laverne St., igniting still-unquantified amounts of still-unnamed chemicals stored at the Custom Packaging & Filling warehouse behind it — a business that didn’t show up on the list of storage facilities the Chronicle was able to compile from local emergency planning groups, after the city and state blocked a previous request for similar info last year. The blaze left some firefighters with chemical burns and respiratory issues, and left stretches of nearby waterways decorated with festive biohazard signs and oil booms as the EPA did what they could about the mixture of pesticides and whatever else was killing the fish that drained from the site.


Mayor Turner told the Chronicle after the fire that transparency on hazardous chemical storage was important, given that “in the absence of zoning, you really don’t know what’s next door. At the very minimum, we should know what hazardous materials and the quantity that people are operating with when they’re next door to you.”

Assistant city attorney Nneka Kanu’s letter to the state, however, reportedly argues that the information could be used by terrorists. The state has previously used the same line of reasoning to block requests for storage facility information; then-attorney-general Greg Abbott insisted in 2014 that “you know where they are, if you drive around.”

Photo: Matthew Harkrider

Knowing Your Neighbors

9 Comment

  • Apparently Brenda Stardig chairs the homeland security committee at city hall. Not sure how a fat, disgusting former realtor is going to be effective keeping our city safe from stuff like this. However, that is definitely in her perview as homeland security chair.

  • In software engineering, we call this “security through obscurity”. It is discouraged. Always assume the opponent will know what you know.

  • Sounds like we need some more strict licensing and fire prevention regulations, as the notoriously invisible hand of the “free market” is useless in situations like this.

  • @Memebag, Fortran or nothing!

  • The City should at least release the names of hazardous materials that are not being legally stored. And as I said in my comment on Matt Dempsey’s article, I’ll bet many of them aren’t. This way, the City can make the case that they aren’t the ones to blame for anything that goes wrong. It’s the companies that aren’t properly storing hazardous materials that are to blame.
    Then of course the City will need to answer to its lack of enforcement for hazardous materials storage, but they’re going to have to answer to that anyway.

  • No Comment

  • I file reports like these, and have for years. They are a tremendous pain-in-the-ass, and not that accurate. The rules for reporting are highly technical and allow a lot of exemptions. We provide it to the local fire department, who then in an emergency parks at the gate and watches from afar while our shit burns down. That being said, it would actually make me a smile a little inside if someone, one day, somewhere, actually used the data we submit – like in this public records request. There is nothing dangerous about disclosing such information. A terrorist can drive down Hwy 225 and see that there is a crap-load of explosive and dangerous chemicals being stored there. Hiding regulatory report info from the public will not change that.

  • Surely the State of Texas will interfere with whatever a private business may do on its property.

  • Frisking government agencies PROTECTING special interests !!!