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FEMA director: Plume at Texas chemical plant 'incredibly dangerous'

By Andrew V. Pestano and Danielle Haynes

Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long on Thursday said a plume created by a fire at chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, is "incredibly dangerous."

The fire caused several deputies in the Harris County Sheriff's Office to seek hospitalization. They have all been released, officials said.

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"All 15 of our HCSO Texas deputies have been checked at the hospital and released," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez wrote on Twitter.

Two small explosions and a fire were reported at the Arkema chemical plant near Houston early Thursday, which sent out black smoke inhaled by police officers. Gonzalez later clarified by stating the incident was a reaction instead of an explosion.

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"There was a chemical reaction, not an explosion at Arkema plant in Crosby. There has been different grades of organic peroxide released," he said.

Long gave an update on the situation in a Thursday afternoon briefing.

"The bottom line is we do what's called plume modeling and that's what we base most of the evacuations on, by all means, the plume is incredibly dangerous," he said.

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Arkema said authorities were notified about the reactions at the plant, located in Crosby, around 2 a.m.

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The Harris County Sheriff's Office said the smoke inhaled by the deputies is believed to be a non-toxic irritant.

"What we were told is that the fumes from this chemical were not life-threatening," HCSO spokesman Jason Spencer told the Houston Chronicle. "I don't think any of our deputies are in a life-threatening situation."

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Arkema's Crosby facility makes organic peroxides, which it says is used in a variety of products -- including pharmaceuticals and construction materials. Organic peroxides burn and could spark a fire if not stored under the right temperatures.

"Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out," the company said in an earlier statement. "We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains."

The Arkema facility lost primary power on Wednesday from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, as well as two sources of emergency backup power.

The company evacuated personnel and the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office said residents within a 1.5-mile radius were told to leave.

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