A huge explosion rocked a chemical plant in rural Shepherd, Texas on Wednesday, sending a massive plume of toxic black smoke into the air. The blast prompted local officials to order residents within a one-mile radius to shelter in place for several hours.
The explosion happened around 8 AM at a facility belonging to Sound Resource Solutions, a company that recycles and repackages chemicals. Preliminary findings indicate the blast occurred when an employee tried using a forklift to move a leaking container, triggering ignition.
Officials Warned of Potentially Hazardous Chemicals as Smoke Plume Spread
Soon after the explosion, videos showed an enormous column of dark smoke rising from the plant. The plume was visible for miles and drifted toward nearby towns.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office warned on Facebook that the smoke likely contained hazardous chemicals that could irritate eyes and skin. They advised residents in the path of the plume to stay indoors, close windows and turn off air conditioning.
San Jacinto County emergency management said the plant produced solvents used in making paint removers and glue. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality monitored potential contamination from the drifting smoke.
One Employee Injured, No Other Casualties Reported
San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers stated that 19 of the 37 Sound Resource Solutions employees were on duty when the blast occurred.
Incredibly, only one worker sustained minor burns. He was taken to the hospital in stable condition and expected to return home the same day.
A nearby private school with 31 children was also safely evacuated through a pasture. All students were quickly reunited with their parents afterward.
“I’m not worried about the business. All my people went home. That’s what I care about,” said company president Geoff Harfield, relieved that no lives were lost.
Shelter in Place Order Lifted Once Fire Contained, Air Monitored
According to Sheriff Capers, the fire was contained by Wednesday afternoon after crews doused the flames with foam from ladder trucks.
With the blaze under control, authorities lifted the shelter in place order that had affected Shepherd and surrounding communities.
San Jacinto County emergency management said ongoing air monitoring hadn’t detected any hazardous chemicals nearby. The dissipating smoke plume was no longer visible.
Firefighters remained on scene into the evening to prevent potential flare-ups. But the major threat posed by the explosion and chemical release appeared over.
Highway Closed Throughout Day, Expected to Reopen by Evening
As a precaution following the blast, officials closed down U.S. Highway 59 in both directions between Shepherd and Livingston, Texas.
This section of Highway 59 was projected to remain shut down for most of Wednesday while the situation stabilized. The highway was slated to reopen sometime in the evening once air quality improved.
The closure caused significant traffic disruptions in the area. But it was a necessary safety measure after the unpredictable chemical plant explosion.
Investigation Underway, Company Pledges Cooperation on Clean Up
What exactly triggered Wednesday’s fiery blast remains under investigation. Sheriff Capers said locals first began calling 911 about the explosion shortly after 8 AM.
According to current theories, a container at the plant began leaking hazardous chemicals. When an employee tried moving it with a forklift, the volatile fumes ignited.
Geoff Harfield of Sound Resource Solutions promised full cooperation with regulators. He wants to identify the incident’s cause and ensure proper environmental remediation.
Despite operating in a high-risk industry, Harfield said he and his employees are extensively trained to handle dangerous materials. He plans to release investigation findings once more details emerge.
Final Takeaways from the Shepherd Chemical Plant Explosion
The massive chemical plant blast in Shepherd, Texas had several noteworthy outcomes and implications:
- A towering plume of toxic smoke triggered emergency actions to safeguard public health.
- Remarkably only one minor injury occurred despite the scale of the explosion.
- Local evacuations and highway closure demonstrated an abundance of caution by officials.
- Cooperation from the plant owners will aid in determining the root cause.
- No lasting contamination is expected but monitoring and cleanup efforts continue.
The rural Texas community averted a far worse disaster through rapid response and coordinated mitigation. Ongoing scrutiny can help prevent similar industrial accidents endangering residents and the environment.