TX Chemical Plant Fire Prompts Shelter-in-Place
An explosion at a Shepherd, Texas, chemical plant earlier this week resulted in one injury and a shelter-in-place order for several hours as a large plume of black smoke could be seen for miles.
The explosion and subsequent chemical fire occurred at Sound Resource Solutions, which reportedly produces solvents for glue and paint remover.
On Wednesday (Nov. 8) morning, shortly after 8 a.m., San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers said that officials began receiving calls about an explosion at the company’s facility.
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.
Capers said 19 of the 37 employees who work for Sound Resource Solutions were on duty at the time of the explosion. Additionally, a private school with 31 children near the site of the explosion was safely evacuated.
At a news briefing at 1 p.m. that day, officials reported that the fire was contained. Authorities were reportedly monitoring the air, nothing that so far no chemicals were detected.
> Texas chemical plant explosion triggers large fire, evacuation and shelter-in-place orders issuedhttps://t.co/pMA79b38xp— Bob-the-Pilot (@Bobthepilot) November 9, 2023
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 trained to handle hazardous chemicals he described as “the type of material you probably have under your kitchen sink.”
“We got a lot of work to do to figure out the incident itself,” Harfield said. “And I know people want answers. We’re going to get you answers, not speculation.”
Capers told reporters he was advised that diesel was burning, with the possibility of turpentine and other chemicals also igniting. Harfield said he could not speculate on what kind of chemicals were suspected of burning as the investigation was ongoing.
The Polk County Emergency Management Office said the plume of smoke from the explosion was heading toward the Livingston area and advised locals to shelter in place and turn off HVAC systems in homes and business “immediately.”
While the shelter-in-place order initially was issued to a 5-mile radius, it was reduced to 1 mile by 10:30 a.m. local time, NBC News reports. That order was lifted later in the afternoon.
The plant reportedly houses chemicals known to cause “acute toxicity, carcinogenicity, and reproductive toxicity, and may cause serious eye damage or eye irritation, skin corrosion or irritation, aspiration hazard, and organ toxicity.
The nearby Highway 59 was also closed after the incident.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would continue to monitor the air through Wednesday evening and would begin working with the chemical plant’s owner on cleaning up the site, said agency spokesperson Ryan Vise.
An investigation is now reportedly underway to determine the cause of the incident; however, factory personnel say the fire was caused by a forklift incident.
Officials in San Jacinto County said that the preliminary findings indicated that the explosion happened when an employee noticed a container leaking with chemicals and tried to use a forklift to lift the container, after which there was an ignition.
Authorities also said that, so far, testing shows the air quality remains safe. More mobile air monitoring units were also deployed to the town overnight.
“At this time, no levels of concern have been detected,” a post from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality read. “Our mobile command post will remain on site until further notice.”