EPA says smoke from Houston-area chemical plant poses no immediate threat

The Arkema Inc. chemical plant is flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Crosby, Texas. The plant, about 25 miles (40.23 kilometers) northeast of Houston, lost power and its backup generators amid Harvey’s dayslong deluge, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises.

CROSBY, Texas (AP) - The Latest on a Houston-area chemical plant that lost power after Harvey (all times local):

11:20 a.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency says its analysis of the smoke from a burning chemical plant outside Houston shows it poses no immediate threat to public health.

EPA deployed personnel and an aircraft early Thursday to help monitor the situation near the Arkema Inc. facility in Crosby. In a statement, the agency said samples collected by the aircraft flying over the plant showed "there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time."

The plant lost power after Harvey engulfed the area in floods. Arkema executive Richard Rennard says the fire was caused by the degradation of chemicals lacking refrigeration and that up to eight more containers could burn and explode.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said his agency will use its authority to protect human health and the environment. State and local officials have ordered people within 1.5 miles (2.41 kilometers) of the plant to evacuate.

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11:05 a.m.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says that the immediate concern for residents around a Houston-area chemical plant where a container caught fire is smoke.

The state agency said in a Thursday statement that the smoke is a complex mixture of pollutants that can irritate the eyes, nose and throat in addition to decreasing lung function. The odors can also cause headaches. The agency said the smoke is "especially acrid and irritating."

Arkema Inc. executive Richard Rennard says the fire was caused by the degradation of chemicals lacking refrigeration and that up to eight more containers could burn and explode. The plant lost power after Harvey engulfed the area in floods.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is advising people to limit their exposure by staying inside.

But the agency says that because the fire will be extinguished as soon as possible, there is minimal risk of long-term health problems.

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10:45 a.m.

The French operator of a flooded Houston-area chemical plant says a container that caught fire is in a remote part of the plant, so it shouldn't affect other materials.

Arkema Inc. executive Richard Rennard made the comments during a news conference Thursday. The container holds organic peroxides. Arkema says the fire was caused by the degradation of chemicals lacking refrigeration and that up to eight more containers could burn and explode.

Rennard would not respond to a reporter's question about whether the burning materials were toxic, but he said the fumes were noxious.

Rennard said, "If you breathe in the smoke it's going to irritate your lungs."

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10:05 a.m.

The company that owns a flooded Houston-area chemical plant that's been rocked by fires had warned investors in securities filings that its facilities were at risk from "accidents, fires, explosions and pollution" due to the nature of the hazardous and flammable materials it uses.

Arkema Inc. said accidents may lead to compensation claims, lawsuits and expensive delays in production. Its most recent annual securities filings are from last year.

Arkema said in a statement on its website that the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant in Crosby on Thursday morning.

In its securities filings, Arkema said it has numerous insurance policies, including two insurance programs that cover up to $50 million in claims for environmental damage suffered by third parties as a result of pollution or transporting its products. It's not immediately clear whether those programs would cover damage from explosions.

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9:55 a.m.

A spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the agency is monitoring a fire at a flooded Houston-area chemical plant but is not immediately testing the toxicity of the smoke from it.

The Arkema Inc. plant was rocked by fires and two explosions early Thursday.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesman Andrew Keese says the top concern is "safety, and that's what the first responders are dealing with right now."

Keese also provided an agency statement Thursday that said, "Because the fire will be extinguished as soon as possible, there is minimal risk of long-term health problems."

The statement urged people in the area to stay "indoors with doors and windows closed and running the air conditioning (if possible) with the fresh intake closed. If it is absolutely necessary to be outdoors, try to move out of the plume of smoke and minimize heavy work, exercise, or children's playtime."

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9:35 a.m.

The French operator of a flooded Houston-area chemical plant says a fire was caused by the degradation of chemicals lacking refrigeration in containers and that up to eight more could burn and explode.

Rich Rennard, an executive with Arkema Inc., said at a news conference just hours after the initial explosion, one of nine refrigerated containers had failed. He says he expects the organic peroxide in up to eight more to degrade, burn and "produce more explosions."

Rennard says he doesn't know how long it will take for them all to degrade. Assistant Harris County Fire Chief Bob Royall said the initial explosion took place just after midnight.

He says any smoke can irritate the eyes, skin and lungs.

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7:50 a.m.

Local officials say explosions at a flooded Houston-area chemical plant produced no toxins, although federal authorities are describing the resulting plumes as "incredibly dangerous."

Assistant Harris County Fire Chief Bob Royall told a news conference Thursday that the explosions emitted 30- to 40-foot (9- to 12-meter) flames and black smoke.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said no toxins were released and that there's no danger to the community. He says sheriff's deputies who were hospitalized suffering from irritated eyes after the blasts have all been released.

But at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Thursday, FEMA administrator Brock Long said he considers plumes from the explosion "incredibly dangerous."

Gonzalez says he expects the fire to burn itself out.

This item has been altered to correct the spelling of Bob Royall's name. It had been misspelled as Rayall.

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5:10 a.m.

Two explosions have been reported at a Houston-area chemical plant that lost power amid flooding from Harvey.

The Houston Chronicle says a statement from the company says the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc. plant early Thursday.

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, the paper reported.

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.