Texas officials issue shelter-in-place order after chemical plant explosion that injured worker

The solvents produced in the factory are used to make glue and paint remover. ‘The effects of the chemical in the air are unknown,’ the Sheriff’s Office said

Chemical plant in Shepherd, Texas
Smoke fills the sky from a chemical plant fire in Shepherd, Texas on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2023.AP

A massive fire at a chemical plant in rural Texas on Wednesday sent a plume of black smoke into the sky as officials closed down a local highway and ordered residents to take shelter.

Authorities issued the shelter-in-place order for residents within a one-mile radius of a chemical plant fire in Shepherd on Wednesday. Shepherd is a mainly rural area about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

Officials in San Jacinto County said the explosion took place at Sound Resource Solutions, a company that recycles and repackages various chemicals. San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said that officials began receiving calls shortly after 8 a.m. about an explosion at the company’s facility.

Officials did not immediately provide any information on a possible cause of the explosion, or how they planned to put it out.

Capers said one employee suffered minor burns to his body and was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition. He said initial reports indicated the chemicals involved in the fire were flammable liquids, including possibly diesel and turpentine.

The solvents produced in the factory are used to make glue and paint remover, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management said in a statement. The agency warned that chemicals from the plant are toxic and can cause eye and skin irritation.

Shortly after the fire at the plant, a large plume of smoke from the facility could be seen in videos captured by residents. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office shared on Facebook that the plume could be heading toward the Livingston area.

Local authorities warned residents to shelter in place and to shut off their HVAC air conditioning systems. Capers said 19 of the 37 employees who work for Sound Resource Solutions were on duty at the time of the explosion.

A private school with 31 children near the site of the explosion was safely evacuated through a pasture and the students have been reunited with their parents, Capers said.

Geoff Harfield, president of Sound Resource Solutions, said he was grateful that all of his employees are safe. “I’m not worried about the business. All my people went home. That’s what I care about,” Harfield said.

Harfield said his company has been operating since 2014 and while they operate “in a dangerous environment,” he and his employees are well trained. He said some of the chemicals they handle are hazardous but “it’s the type of material you probably have under your kitchen sink.”

San Jacinto County Office of Emergency Management said in a statement that Highway 59 had been closed due to the fire. “At this time, the effects of the chemical in the air are unknown,” the Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook.

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