Collision, Chemical Leak Close Part Of Houston Ship Channel : The Two-Way An "unknown quantity" of a gasoline additive leaked from a 600-foot tanker. It's the Houston Ship Channel's second crash in less than a week.
NPR logo Collision, Chemical Leak Close Part Of Houston Ship Channel

Collision, Chemical Leak Close Part Of Houston Ship Channel

The chemical tanker Carla Maersk sits at anchor off Morgans Point, Texas, after Monday's collision in foggy weather. The Maersk was carrying about 216,000 barrels of the gas additive MTBE. U.S. Coast Guard hide caption

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U.S. Coast Guard

An "unknown quantity" of toxic chemicals leaked into the Houston Ship Channel on Monday after two ships collided, the U.S. Coast Guard said. A portion of the Gulf Coast channel was closed immediately and remained closed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Residents of a nearby community were warned to stay indoors after the crash, as officials conducted air monitoring tests in the area, The Associated Press reported.

It remains unclear how much of the methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, leaked after the 600-foot chemical tanker Carla Maersk collided with the 623-foot bulk carrier Conti Peridot about 12:40 p.m. local time, Coast Guard officials said.

"This is not a cargo chemical that is easy to clean up," Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer told the AP.

MTBE is a flammable, colorless liquid that has a "foul odor, and when it contaminates drinking water supplies it can render the water unusable," according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It's a gasoline additive that raises the oxygen content of gasoline to help it burn more completely and reduce harmful vehicle emissions.

The leak was stopped about 90 minutes after the Coast Guard got word of the crash. Crews were looking at the vessel's tanks to see how much MTBE might have spilled in the channel, the AP reported. The other ship involved was hauling steel.

The crash happened at a narrow spot near the channel entrance on a foggy day, reflected in photos provided by the Coast Guard.

No injuries were reported, but air-quality monitoring did reveal that fumes were present, according to the Coast Guard. It added that fumes measured at below toxic levels.

The chemical tanker was carrying about 216,000 barrels of MTBE, according to the Coast Guard.

As of Tuesday morning, Reuters reports, there were 36 ships waiting to enter the channel and 28 waiting to leave.

The crash was the second in less than a week at one of the country's busiest channels. On Thursday, a 445-foot tanker collided with a 892-foot container ship, but no injuries or leaks were reported.

You can watch a video showing the course of the two ships in Monday's crash here:

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