Chemical plant fire injures 1, prompts shelter-in-place order

A fire Wednesday morning at a chemical plant in Texas injured one person and prompted a shelter-in-place order as it sent thick plumes of dark smoke into the air.

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The blaze began before 9:30 a.m. at Sound Chemical Solutions in Shepherd, officials said. Jeff Harfield, president of Sound Resource Solutions, said the fire sparked in a “forklift incident” that left one employee with minor burns.

“We’ve spoken to the person that was involved, and he’s healing but, we just want him to heal,” he said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

He declined to immediately give more information about the circumstances that led to the fire.

“We’re going to do all the investigation,” he said.

The fire prompted officials to evacuate 31 children from a nearby private school and to order residents in the area shelter in place. The shelter-in-place order has since been lifted.

Plant officials previously told the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that the facility housed several chemicals known to be dangerous to people, according to the Polk County Office of Emergency Management.

“According to records recently received from TCEQ, the plant has reported housing Wood Turpentine, Phosphoric Acid, Xylene, Diesel Fuel, IMP-IC-2012, Sulfuric Acid, CDA-121, NP 9, Isopropyl Alcohol, IMB-BAC-2, AZA-121 Dispersant, and Acetic Acid,” officials said.

“These chemicals are known to have acute toxicity, carcinogenicity, and reproductive toxicity, and may cause serious eye damage or eye irritation, skin corrosion or irritation, aspiration hazard, and organ toxicity.”

Authorities said the company makes solvents for glue and paint remover.

Harfield acknowledged Wednesday that the company dealt with hazardous chemicals and said officials were taking safety measures out of an abundance of caution. He said the chemicals used are “the type of material you probably have under your kitchen sink.”

“It’s not to be taken lightly, obviously,” he added.

The state environmental agency set up an air monitoring unit to gather more details about potential hazards from the smoke. As of Wednesday afternoon, officials said no concerning chemicals had been found in the air.

Nineteen people were working when the fire sparked at the plant on Wednesday.

“We employ almost 40 people and our biggest focus right now, and what we’re grateful for is that every one of those people are going to be home eating dinner with their family tonight,” he said.

Later, he added, “We’re a large manufacturer. … We bring in 30 truckloads of raw materials a day and we ship out 30 truckloads every single day of finished goods.”

Authorities continue to investigate.