By Emily Banks Wooten
An explosion attributed to a “forklift incident” at Sound Resource Solutions, an industrial chemical manufacturing plant located at 731 FM 1127 in Shepherd, wreaked havoc in East Texas Wednesday. A major highway was closed, a school district was evacuated and multiple other school districts were placed in lockdown mode and shelter-in-place orders were issued by the respective offices of emergency management in three different counties as numerous area fire departments and first responders fought the ensuing blaze for most of the day.
The company, which has an approximately 20-acre campus, has 40 employees and a spokesperson said there were 19 there that morning. Fortunately, only one was injured, having sustained “minor burns.”
The San Jacinto County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) immediately issued a shelter-in-place order for a five-mile radius and a private school located on FM 1127 was evacuated to the Shepherd ISD Administration Building.
“Medical and fire crews came in to assess the situation and evacuate a private school. There were fire departments from Harris County, San Jacinto County, Polk County, Livingston. Due to the location, we had to reach out to other facilities and agencies to get more water,” San Jacinto County Emergency Management Coordinator Emmitt Eldridge said.
The Livingston Volunteer Fire Department contacted the Polk County OEM early Wednesday and relayed news of the explosion and that a plume of smoke was headed toward Livingston. Polk County OEM issued shelter-in-place instructions at approximately 9:30 a.m., instructing homes and businesses along the Hwy. 59 corridor from Shepherd to Leggett to turn off their HVAC systems as it was unknown what chemicals were in the air.
Both north and southbound traffic on U.S. Hwy. 59 was shut down immediately, with traffic being re-routed.
Livingston ISD placed all campuses on hold, employing emergency protocols to ensure student safety and welfare. Goodrich ISD staff and students were evacuated to Onalaska ISD as it was not in the path of the plume. Leggett and Corrigan-Camden ISDs both sheltered in place.
The National Weather Service issued a graphic at approximately 10:30 a.m. that illustrated the projected plume area based on wind patterns, which showed it headed northeast toward Tyler County resulting in a shelter-in-place order being activated there as well.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) mobilized an air monitoring unit in Polk County to provide more information about the potential hazards and appropriate safety measures.
San Jacinto County OEM reduced its shelter-in-place order from a five-mile radius to a one-mile radius at 11 a.m. Shortly afterward, the Livingston Police Department reported that Hwy. 59 South would be closed at Hwy. 190 in Livingston and that those traveling south would have to take Hwy. 190 West to Huntsville to I-45 and only local traffic would be allowed through.
Around 11:40 a.m. the Polk County Sheriff’s Office shut down traffic at Hwy. 190 and Hwy. 59 and all southbound traffic was rerouted to Hwy. 146 or I-45, depending on which way they were traveling. FM 3278 was not open to traffic unless proof of residency could be provided.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Eldridge reported that the fire was contained.
Tyler County OEM lifted its shelter-in-place order around 1:20 p.m. and at 1:45 p.m. Livingston ISD notified its patrons that it had resumed normal operations and dismissal would be conducted as usual.
However, everyone was asked to not linger outdoors until air quality information could be provided by the TCEQ. Small children and people with respiratory illnesses or other health problems were strongly encouraged to remain indoors.
Polk County OEM lifted its shelter-in-place order at 2 p.m. and said HVAC systems could be turned back on at people’s discretion. The Goodrich ISD students that had been evacuated to Onalaska were released to return either to school or to go home.
By 5:48 p.m. all lanes of Hwy. 59 had been reopened.
Polk County OEM said that according to records recently received from TCEQ, the plant had reported housing wood turpentine, phosphoric acid, xylene, diesel fuel, IMP-IC-2012, sulfuric acid, CDA121, NP 9, isopropyl alcohol, IMB-BAC-2, AZA-121 dispersant and acetic acid, chemicals that 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.
On Thursday morning the San Jacinto County OEM reported that contractors with Sound Resource Solutions were working to contain alcohol chemical leaks from onsite tanker trailers and that there was no hazard to the public from the tanker leaks. Shepherd and Oakhurst VFDs were onsite Thursday to assist with extinguishing any remaining hotspots. TCEQ continued its air quality monitoring through Friday but did not detect any levels of concern.
An update to the chemicals reported to be stored for the past two reporting years at the plant reflected the following: wood turpentine, phosphoric acid 75%, xylene, diesel fuel, IMP-IC2012, sulfuric acid, CDA-121, CCI-1001-imidazoline, NP 9, isopropyl alcohol, IMB-BAC-2, AZA-121 dispersant and acetic acid.
The OEMs expressed their appreciation to all responders that worked the incident and to the public for its cooperation by sheltering in place to keep everyone safe as the situation unfolded.
Livingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Brent E. Hawkins also expressed his appreciation.
“While no one wants to place the school in emergency operation status, witnessing the focus and cooperation of everyone involved, including faculty, staff, students, parents and emergency partners, it gives great pride in the outcome of Wednesday’s events. Our faculty and staff exponentially saw their duties increased to operate under emergency status, but the district could not be more proud of the job everyone did in taking care of our students like they were their own. We commend our emergency operation partners in these times as they continue to serve not only our district but also our community selflessly and passionately.
“The district would also like to extend a special thank you to the Polk County Emergency Management, including Judge Sydney Murphy, in that if it was not for their role in this process, we would not have seen the successful outcome as we saw in Wednesday’s event. As in all emergency management situations where the district emergency management plans are evoked, we conduct both internal and external After-Action Reviews to evaluate and improve our responses to emergency situations.
“We encourage everyone to view the Standard Response Protocol located on the front page of the Livingston ISD website. While this event is fresh on your mind, it is crucial that we all follow our roles and responsibilities during these stressful times so that we can successfully focus on effective and efficient outcomes for all involved.”
Further updates may be found on the Polk County Emergency Management Facebook page (www.facebook.com/PolkCountyEmergencyManagement) and the Polk County Emergency Management website www.PolkCountyOEM.com
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This commment is unpublished.· 20 days agoI don't know what it was. But it really messed with my breathing,and my whole body was itchy,and I couldn't catch my breath.Had to get on my portable oxygen. I am so sorry for any one else who suffered from that horrible accident.
This commment is unpublished.· 20 days agoThankfully, the media finally realized/located the url for the product list of the plant. The best researchers, are the ones who then matched those chemicals to their MSDS reports, to ascertain the affects to humans, animals, and environment, Fix will take months. Great work all.