'Pops' and smoke at Arkema Plant in Crosby send deputies to hospital

The Harris County Emergency Operations Center has reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, Texas.

At least one Harris County deputy had been taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the plant.

A total of 15 deputies were checked out of the hospital.

Arkema officials later told the Harris County Sheriff's Office that the smoke inhaled by the 10 deputies is believed to be a non-toxic irritant.

An Arkema spokesperson tells FOX 26 that this substance release is not chemical, but it can cause irritation to the eyes, throat, nose and skin.

Local officials held a press conference and were careful not to call the incidents 'explosions' so as to not alarm residents.

They were described as 'pops.'

Arkema says at least two of the eight containers of organic peroxide have exploded, and all eight will at some point.

Local officials had previously established an evacuation zone in an area 1.5 miles from our plant, based on their assessment of the situation.

Arkema says it is working closely with federal, state and local authorities to manage the situation.

However, an unprecedented 6-feet of floodwater overwhelmed the primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, they lost critical refrigeration of the products on site. Some of the organic peroxides products burn if not stored at low temperature.

Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, Arkema and public officials agree, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out.

Do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.

Organic peroxides are a family of compounds that are used in a wide range of applications, such as making pharmaceuticals and construction materials.

Toxicologist Dr. Noreen Khan Mayberry says the Arkema plan is at "imminent risk due to the fact that they have (non-diluted) unstable organic peroxides that have been warming."

Dr. Khan Mayberry claims the deflagration of the organic peroxides at the plant is the main concern because as the pressure increases, the combustion and reaction zones increase creating a faster detonation.

She warns residents to stay away from Crosby because, she says, there is a very serious risk.

Full statement from Arkema CEO Rich Rowe:

"The nation is dealing with a natural disaster of enormous magnitude in Texas. As part of that, Arkema is dealing with a critical issue at our Crosby, Texas facility.Please let me begin by thanking our brave and dedicated employees who safely shut down the site before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Like everyone else in the region, these folks were dealing with personal and family issues caused by the storm, yet they performed their tasks in the most professional manner.

"Next, we apologize to everyone impacted by our situation, particularly in combination with the horrible conditions visited upon the region by the hurricane. We are working closely with many governmental authorities and first responders, and we want to thank them for their guidance, professionalism and dedication. People are working around the clock under extremely challenging conditions, and the work thus far has been tremendous. We cherish the strong relationships and support we have received from our neighbors, the United States Department of Homeland Security, Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency, Harris County Fire Marshall's Office, Harris County Texas Sheriff's Office, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and our elected representatives.

"Our Crosby facility makes organic peroxides, a family of compounds that are used in everything from making pharmaceuticals to construction materials. But organic peroxides may burn if not stored and handled under the right conditions. At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst case scenario. We had redundant contingency plans in place. Right now, we have an unprecedented 6 feet of water at the plant. We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire. The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it. We have evacuated our personnel for their own safety. The federal, state and local authorities were contacted a few days ago, and we are working very closely with them to manage this matter. They have ordered the surrounding community to be evacuated, too.

"We are setting up a call center to handle questions from neighbors and others affected, and a claims center to handle financial claims related to Arkema's Crosby situation. Also, we've reached out to local crisis leaders in Harris County and offered our support. Once more, we apologize for impacting their lives. We thank the governmental authorities who are working closely with us for their guidance and professionalism, and will continue to work with them until this situation is resolved."