UPDATE: 9:27 a.m. CST, Aug. 31 — The smoke coming the fire at the Arkema chemical plant is not toxic, company officials said at a press conference, but like any smoke, it is an irritant, and if those who have been exposed are concerned, they should seek medical advice.
“The smoke is noxious, it’s toxicity is relative,” said Richard Rennard, president of Arkema’s acrylic monomers division, of the 30- to 40-foot smoke plume over the Crosby, Texas, plant that makes plastics feedstocks.
?It?s not a chemical release that?s happening. What we have is a fire,? he told reporters Thursday morning.
The company has set up a hotline and a claims line on its website, Rennard said, for those experiencing problems due to smoke exposure. Those concerned can call 1-877-4-ARKEMA or follow Arkema on Twitter for more updates, the site says.
The fire, which has alternately been described as starting with two explosions as well as “a series of pops,” started overnight after the plant lost power, and eventually back-up power, to the refrigeration systems cooling the chemicals.
The mile-and-a-half evacuation zone set up around the plant is still in place, even thought Rennard said the water in the facility is receding.
Only one of the nine refrigerated containment units has been breached so far, but the company expects the rest to eventually catch fire as the organic peroxide continues to degrade in warm temperatures.
“It’s not over,” Rennard said.
UPDATE: 7:21 a.m. CST, Aug. 31 – Media spotting flames and smoke from Crosby’s Arkema plant.
No longer describing them as “explosions,” officials initially reported there was a chance the chemicals would dissipate in flood waters, but agree a best course of action will be to let the fire “burn itself out.”
Forecasters are reporting minimal wind for the area, and plant officials say the chemicals should dissipate with the smoke in the air.
Ten HCSO deputies are receiving treatment for what Arkema Inc. is describing as exposure to a ‘non-toxic irritant.’
UPDATE: 6:30 a.m. CST, Aug. 31 – The Harris County Sheriff’s Office gave an update on the anticipated situation in Crosby. An official press conference and statement are expected at 9:00 a.m. CST.
The company released a statement, via KPRC, shortly after the initial reports this morning:
DALLAS (AP) ? Two explosions were reported early Thursday at a Houston-area chemical plant that lost power amid flooding from Harvey.
A statement from the Arkema Inc. company said the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant at about 2 a.m.
In a tweet, the Harris County Sheriff?s Office said a deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes. Nine other deputies drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.
A tweet from the Harris County Fire Marshal?s Office confirmed there had been ?a series of chemical reactions? at the plant and advised people to stay away from the area.
A spokeswoman for the plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators amid Harvey flooding, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises. The plant is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston.
?The fire will happen. It will resemble a gasoline fire. It will be explosive and intense in nature,? spokeswoman Janet Smith told The Associated Press late Wednesday.
There was ?no way to prevent? the explosion, chief executive Rich Rowe said earlier Wednesday.
Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making everything from pharmaceuticals to construction materials.
?As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire,? Smith said. ?So the fire is imminent. The question is when.?
The company shut down the Crosby site before Harvey made landfall last week, but a crew of 11 had stayed behind. That group was removed and residents within 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) were told to evacuate Tuesday after the plant lost power.
The plant falls along a stretch near Houston that features one of the largest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country.
Associated Press writer Claudia Lauer in Dallas contributed to this report.