What We Know About the Massive Chemical Fire in Shepherd, Texas

A chemical fire in Texas threw clouds of black smoke in the air, prompting a shelter-in-place order and panic online.
Thick black smoke billowing from a large fire
Credit: South Polk County Volunteer Fire Department Via Facebook

A massive fire at a Texas chemical plant briefly resulted in shelter-in-place orders on Wednesday as a large smoke cloud hovered over two Texas counties.

The fire started Wednesday morning at Sound Resource Solutions in Shepherd, Texas, about 60 miles northeast of Houston. The San Jacinto and Polk County Emergency Management agencies issued shelter-in-place orders for a five-mile radius around the facility and Highway 59 was closed.


It is not clear what chemicals caught fire. According to the Polk County Office of Emergency Management, the plant had recently reported to the state environmental protection agency that it had Wood Turpentine, Phosphoric Acid, Xylene, Diesel Fuel, IMP-IC-2012, Sulfuric Acid, CDA-121, NP 9, Isopropyl Alcohol, IMB-BAC-2, AZA-121 Dispersant, and Acetic Acid. 

The Shelter In Place order was reduced to a one-mile radius and then lifted on Wednesday afternoon. An air monitor provided by the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office did not pick up “any high readings,” according to a Facebook post by the Polk County Office of Emergency Management. 

People in the area had been reporting “a chemical-type smell” in Polk County and surrounding counties the day before the fire, but the source of the odor was never determined.

Panic and conspiracy theories quickly took hold online, particularly amongst the Far Right on Elon Musk’s X, promoting unfounded declarations that many people in the affected counties will get cancer and linking it to the East Palestine train derailment as a Biden administration conspiracy. 

But any conspiracy theory misses the fact that toxic chemical spills, leakages, and explosions are shockingly common in the United States, as are all kinds of industrial accidents. According to data compiled by USA Today from federal reports, there have been more than 5,000 hazardous chemical leaks and spills from trains over the past decade. In 2022 alone, there were 337 incidents, enough for one to occur almost every day, as Motherboard has previously reported

Sound Resource Solutions has a clean record with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Motherboard found. The company also transports hazardous materials and has no reported violations or failed inspections with the Department of Transportation.