On April 17, 2013, a massive explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas killed 15 people, 12 of whom were volunteer firefighters. This tragedy brought the dangers of chemical facilities to the national consciousness. On August 1, 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order, which directed the EPA to issue new rules to prevent future chemical facility disasters. New rules were issued on January 13, 2017 but the Trump administration suspended and overturned them.
Chemical facility incidents continue to occur and often result in evacuations, shelter-in-place, closure of local businesses, injury to employees, community residents and sometimes death.
In 2021 the Biden administration will consider whether to issue a comprehensive disaster prevention rule that truly protects workers and communities from an estimated 150 serious incidents that occur each year in the U.S. We periodically update this list based on news reports.
Below, a list of chemical incidents from April 2020 to the present. Click on each headline to learn more.
This is only a subset of incidents reported by media, industry, or government agencies.
Older Incidents by Month
Dec. 28, 2020
Workers evacuated a cured meat plant, and 10 people were transported to the hospital with upper respiratory irritation.
Dec. 24, 2020
Two school custodians were found unconscious after families called police when they didn’t return from work. One later died. Police responding to the situation noted a mysterious chemical smell.
Dec. 23, 2020
“Fire chief Kevin Kloehn says hazmat crews have been sent to the scene to investigate whether chlorine was erroneously emptied into a tank filled with acid.” Three employees were treated and released. Local residents were evacuated.
Dec. 15, 2020
Hazmat crews evacuated the building and were investigating the source of the leak.
Dec. 14, 2020
A fire in an agriculture supply yard set off a series of explosions and caused a building to partially collapse. Local officials, “worried that the fire threatened fertilizer and other chemicals stored at the yard,” ordered residents to shelter-in-place.
Dec. 12, 2020
Coca-Cola plant employees were evacuated after a tank containing sulfuric acid spilled while being offloaded. The spill was contained.
Dec. 11, 2020
Ammonia leaked from the roof of a cold-storage facility.
Dec. 11, 2020
A hydraulic fuel fire broke at an oil depot; local residents were ordered to shelter-in-place.
Dec. 10, 2020
A Freon leak caused employees to become lightheaded. The cold storage facility was evacuated.
Dec. 9, 2020
A chemical odor in the Municipal Service Center caused four employees to be sent to the hospital for evaluation.
Dec. 9, 2020
Chemical batch processing equipment exploded and released chlorine, methanol, and metal shrapnel, into the surrounding area. One worker died, three were injured. Officials enforced a 2-mile radius shelter-in place and closed dozens of local schools.
Dec. 9, 2020
One person was injured before fire and hazmat crews contained a leak of ammonia from a salad packing and distribution plant.
Dec. 5, 2020
A fire and explosion of an oil tank at the Magellan Storage Facility injured seven people and led to shelter-in-place orders to the local community for two hours. Two workers, who were cleaning the tank, later sued Magellan for allegedly causing “life-changing injuries.”
Dec. 5, 2020
A fire involving an unknown chemical at a metal heat treating facility caused authorities to issue a shelter-in place order.
Dec. 1, 2020
A nitrogen leak at the Golden West food processing plant left two people dead.
Dec. 1, 2020
A “minor incident” led to a “small fire” at the Eastman coal gasification plant. In 2017, an explosion at this plant disrupted operations for weeks.
Nov. 28, 2020
Firefighters evacuated 150 employees and several were hospitalized after possible exposure to an unknown hazardous substance. The workers reported to be feeling ill with “undisclosed mild to moderate symptoms.” Earlier in the year, workers complained to state and local authorities “about what they say are dangerous working conditions at the facility that could expose them to the novel coronavirus.”
Nov. 27, 2020
An investigation is being conducted as to what caused the second explosion at a distillery in four years. In 2016, a truck driver mistakenly unloaded sulfuric acid into a hypochlorite line at the MGP plant, leading to an explosion that hospitalized 100 people and released a cloud of chlorine gas over the city. More info here.
Nov 27, 2020
A power outage led to the release of anhydrous ammonia, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide for over 30 hours. County officials said they were never notified of the leak while it was occurring. Ascend Performance Materials makes adipic acid, BHMT, dimethyl esters, hexamethylene diamine, keytone alcohol, nitric acid and nylon salt, at this plant. More information here.
Nov. 21, 2020
A meat packing plant was evacuated after ammonia leaked from a meat packing refrigeration unit. Two workers were transported to the hospital.
Nov. 19, 2020
A fuel tank exploded and triggered a fire in a plastics machinery warehouse. One worker was hospitalized and the nearby area was evacuated.
Nov. 16, 2020
A fire at a metal heat treatment facility caused an explosion and blue and pinkish flames.
Nov. 15, 2020
Delaware Public Media reported that, according to the Department of Natural Resources, the Croda chemical plant “had exceeded its annual emission limit for ethylene oxide at an air pollution scrubber, and that the scrubber had failed to reduce volatile organic compound emissions by at least 95 percent. Croda also routed an unpermitted source into an air pollution scrubber and operated an unpermitted source of ethylene oxide at a part of the plant known as a hotwell, which environmental regulators say condenses vapors from the purification and distillation of crude ethylene glycol.” The latest problems followed a massive leak at the plant in 2018 which caused a shutdown of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
According to its Risk Management Plan, Croda stores as much as 1,433,200 pounds of ethylene oxide in rail cars at the Atlas Point site. It uses ethylene oxide in the manufacture of surfactants.
Nov. 13, 2020
A release of a mixture of steam and hydrochloric acid killed one contract worker and injured several others at a polycrystalline silicon plant.
Nov. 12, 2020
A worker cleaning out a tanker that previously held toluene was found dead. “Authorities say it's not exactly clear how the man died since he was wearing a respirator at the time.” More information here.
Nov. 12, 2020
At time of reporting it was unclear what caused the explosion at the factory which produces chlorine dioxide generators for water treatment. Firefighters were challenged by a leaking barrel of hydrochloric acid that mixed with water from an overhead sprinkler system and formed a chemical cloud.
Nov. 1, 2020
A formaldehyde leak shut down local streets and caused several people to be transported to the local hospital for evaluations. Hexion is the country’s leading manufacturer of formaldehyde-based resins.
Oct. 26, 2020
A storage tank, which was reported not to be in service, collapsed during the night, shaking up local residents who were told they were not in danger. Contents of the tank were said to be proprietary and not revealed. “The plant's primary product, acrylonitrile, is manufactured by combining ammonia, propylene and air,” according to a Risk Management Plan.
Oct. 24, 2020
A two foot thick slurry containment wall installed in 1982 when the chemical plant was demolished was discovered to be leaking by EPA inspectors. The inspectors found evidence that contaminated groundwater had spread into a neighborhood but said that no contaminants were evident in drinking water. The facility had produced chemicals such as DDT and flame retardants.
Oct. 20, 2020
An explosion at a cannabis production facility severely burned two workers.The state suspended New Mexicann’s licenses. According to High Times, the facility had a similar explosion in the past. “Back in 2015, that explosion also burned two coworkers. It happened when two workers were extracting THC using cannabis that was soaked with butane and then heated to boil off liquid and create hash. The method is looked down on as unsafe by many in the industry because of the highly flammable nature of butane that is heated during the extraction process. At the time, New Mexicann Natural Medicine was fined $13,500 by OSHA and cited for at least 12 violations, which were considered serious by the state.”
Oct. 7, 2020
More than 30,000 gallons of pulping chemicals were spilled into the Penobscot River after a sewer line ruptured.
Oct. 6, 2020
The company is facing a $115,000 fine and has been prevented from using, storing or disposing trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCICA). The chemical, which is used to kill bacteria in swimming pools and hot tubs, had been mishandled in the past at the facility resulting in release of chlorine gas clouds and a dumpster fire.
Oct. 5, 2020
A leak of hydrogen-sulphide into an air vent forced the evacuation of the building housing the Merkert Chemistry Center. No injuries were reported.
Sept. 25, 2020
A worker discovered a leaking chlorine cylinder at a water treatment plant. Hazmat teams capped off the 150 pound cylinder, and the employee was sent to a hospital for evaluation.
Sept. 24, 2020
Three employees were injured in a flash fire that occurred at ABC Coke, owned by coal company Drummond Company. This is the largest largest merchant producer of foundry coke in the United States. ABC Coke was fined $775,000 for improper benzene emissions in 2019. Further information here.
Sept. 22, 2020
Five people were arrested after bullet holes were found in tanks, and caused agricultural chemical tanks to leak. The three adults and two juveniles admitted to target shooting in the area.
Sept. 22, 2020
A leak of 2,000 pounds of chlorine dioxide at a paper mill forced employees to be relocated and local traffic to be rerouted.
Sept. 21, 2022
A fire, at the 2,000 acre paper mill, was reported to have been started in a “process vessel.” Two contractors who died apparently were there to repair damaged equipment. As of January 20, 2021, a U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation remains underway.
Sept. 16, 2020
An explosion of chlorine dioxide at a research lab at the University injured 3 people.
Sept. 14, 2020
According to a local report, “Plumes of toxic vapor rose out of the warehouse where Trichloroisocyanuric acid was stored. The chemical is in a powdered form and used to treat and clean swimming pools. When water came in contact with the chemical it released a chlorine or bleach smell.” As a result, hazmat crews closed a nearby four-mile stretch of I-20 for several hours.
Sept. 11, 2020
An explosion and flames were reported at a shipping company’s loading dock where acetylene cylinders were being transported. “It is unknown whether one of the cylinders was ruptured or leaking during offloading,” a fire spokesman said.
Sept. 10, 2020
A leak of chlorine, gas and muriatic acid in the pool room of the school sent one person to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Sept. 10, 2020
A fire destroyed a rigid plastics factory. Local residents were ordered to shelter in place, close their windows and shut off air conditioners.
Sept. 8, 2020
A series of explosions at FAR Chemical rattled windows and released fireballs resulting in a shutdown of US-1. A Palm Bay spokesperson said the blasts originated from a storage area containing barrels of an isopropyl alcohol-based solution. More information here. Florida Department of Environmental Protection cited FAR Chemical for failing to notify residents within 24 hours of the release of “potentially hazardous materials into the air.” A site Risk Management Plan lists bromine and trimethylchlorosilane as hazardous chemicals it uses on site to manufacture pharmaceutical intermediates and other chemicals.
Sept. 2, 2020
Hazmat teams responded to a chemical leak involving a spill of sulphuric acid from a leaking battery that was part of an emergency power backup unit. Parts of the DHS building were evacuated and employees were sent home for the day. One person went to a hospital for evaluation.
Sept. 1. 2020
A styrene leak at a rail station on Sabic’s property in Selkirk, NY caused officials to authorize a shelter in place for residents in a 1 mile radius and evacuations for non-essential personnel in a ½ mile radius. The rail car was reported to have contained 180,000 pounds of styrene, according to Sabic executive Scott Danzey. Later reports revealed the railcar had been sitting in the railyard for 3 months.
Hurricane Laura incidents
August 27, 2020
“According to a WWNO/WRKF analysis of publicly-available reports and emails from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), while the majority of facilities emerged unscathed from the Category 4 hurricane, nine out of the 138 facilities that were inspected suffered critical damage.”
Plains All American reported a leak of an unknown amount of crude oil from a 40,000 barrel storage tank. EPA said it received 31 reports of oil and chemical spills in the wake of Hurricane Laura.
Critical damage was reported at the Lotte Chemical plant in Lake Charles and Equistar Chemicals facility in Westlake. The Chemical Waste Management facility in Lake Charles, according to WWNO/WRKF, reported “severe” damage, including the potential “total loss” of a transfer facility.
The most significant incident occurred at the BioLab chemical plant in Lake Charles (below).A massive fire consumed this swimming pool chemical plant after being damaged by Hurricane Laura. The fire burned for two days and shut down Interstate 10. EPA found chlorine above detection limits in nine neighborhood locations. BioLab reportedly stores 835 tons of the chemical trichloroisocyanuric acid. A U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation is ongoing, as of January 20, 2021.
In addition, according to New Orleans Public Radio, “The EPA is investigating potential damage at two Superfund sites in Louisiana — possible leaching of creosote-laden soil at American Creosote in DeRidder, and another incident at Marion Pressure Treating in Marion.”
Reform Austin reported that the pollution began before the Category 4 hurricane struck the Gulf Coast. “ “With Hurricane Laura threatening the Gulf Coast region, the oil refineries and petrochemical plants that stretch across the Houston area and Southeast Texas took their customary precautions of shutting down operations. In doing so, they released about 4 million pounds of pollutants into the air.”
Aug. 27, 2020
Valero reportedly released 840 pounds of sulphur dioxide around its Port Arthur operations during shut down procedure for Hurricane Laura.
Aug. 27, 2020
“In Texas, refineries were rushing to shut down as Laura came barrelling toward the coast. But shuttering these plants actually involves releasing millions of pounds of additional pollution. As part of shutdown procedures, these facilities often need to release and burn off (or flare) various unprocessed chemicals and gases,” reported Grist magazine. “In fact, when Laura made landfall in southeast Texas, a report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality showed that Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery, the largest oil refinery on the continent, had a chemical leak on a process line during the shutdown.” According to publication Reform Austin, “Motiva’s emissions totaled nearly 90 tons, including a half-ton of benzene. The plant reported releasing more hazardous pollutants during the hurricane than it did in all of 2018.”
Aug. 18, 2020
A tank fire was reported at Pasadena Refining Systems, adjacent to Buffalo Bayou. The product in the tank was “unknown,” according to a NOAA report. There was no discharge of foam or fire suppression water into the waterway. A site Risk Management Program report says the refinery “operates a variety of processes to produce petroleum products (e.g., refinery grade propylene, gasoline, fuel oil, and coke) from raw crude oil. The refinery has several regulated flammables, such as hydrogen, methane, ethanes, propanes, butanes, and pentanes. In addition, the refinery uses chlorine for algae control in cooling towers and hydrogen fluoride in the making of gasoline, which are also regulated substances.”
Aug. 15, 2020
An explosion killed two workers at a company that recycles used cooking oil and inedible meat byproducts for use in pet food. According to the Associated Press, DAR PRO Solutions did not report the incident to authorities.
Aug. 11, 2020
An explosion occurred in the chemical distribution warehouse, apparently after sodium chloride and sulfuric acid were mixed.
Week of Aug. 24, 2020
Fire crews put out two fires in three days at a power plant. The first occurred in a dust collection system, the second broke out in a conveying system and was reported to have taken 40 firefighters nearly 7 hours to put out. The plant burns garbage and fuel oil.
July 29, 2020
A leak of a liquid at a dairy plant formed a cloud of gas and the site was evacuated. The leak was reported as a combination of “Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Hypochlorite, Sodium Polyacrylate, Nitric Acid and Phosphoric Acid.”
July 21, 2020
Two workers were hospitalized after being sprayed with potassium hydroxide from a pressurized hose.
July 16, 2020
Residents nearby a distribution warehouse were told to evacuate, and those further away were ordered to shelter in place, after a semi-truck was discovered smoldering and emitting a chemical odor. "Initially representatives from Amazon could not be found delaying the identification of the products inside the trailer," according to a local report. The identification of what was described as a hazardous chemical was never given to the press.
June 18, 2020
An explosion and flash fire caused burns to a worker at the facility. “The man was injured while turning potassium nitrate into pellets...The chemical is used in fireworks, rocket propellants, gun powder and more,” according to a local news report. In 2016, OSHA fined the company $176,000 after another explosion injued an employee.
June 16, 2020
A tank containing diluted chemicals, including sulfuric acid and hydrofluoric acid, spilled and caused an evacuation of the facility. One worker was sent to the hospital for inhalation of fumes. The plant makes automotive air conditioning and engine cooling components.
June 15, 2020
An explosion in the ventilation system at the factory sent three workers to the hospital with burns. Troxel manufactures steel tubing.
June 11, 2020
A rupture in a nitrogen line caused an explosion at the facility, which produces hydrogen.
June 10, 2020
Neighbors of the plant complained after an explosion shook nearby houses and caused a fire and a plume of smoke. “This isn’t the first or second time,” one neighbor said. Frequent explosions from this metal shredding plant have been reported at least since 2013
May 25, 2020
A chlorine vapor cloud caused the shutdown of roadways and the evacuations of surrounding buildings, while residents were told to shelter in place. Officials blamed the release on water exposure. It was reported that the facility had been the site of several chemical fires in the past 16 years.
May 16, 2020
An explosion and fire in a hash oil warehouse injured several firefighters who ran into the burning building only to be confronted by a ball of flames. “Some of the fleeing firefighters were on fire and tore off their protective equipment and left it on the sidewalk, along with melted helmets.”
May 12, 2020
The plant was evacuated, with no injuries reported. Tyson is the world's largest meat and poultry processing company. OSHA previously said the company “failed to separate compressed gas cylinders of oxygen and acetylene while in storage - a violation for which OSHA cited the company in 2013 at its Albertville, Alabama, facility.”
May 10, 2020
The plant produces blacktop asphalt. An explosion in a heater caused the explosion. Fire was fueled by “100 gallons of oil and a natural gas line.”
May 7, 2020
Fire broke out at a factory that produces magnesium alloys for batteries, electronics and cars. “It was determined oil and trash had caught fire at the facility. Magnesium was not involved as a fuel source for the blaze. The exact cause of the fire has not been determined.” The company paid a $50,000 fine after a fire in 2012. That Madison Fire Chief said, “I’ve been on this department 35 years and there’s probably been several fatalities out here. … From explosions or what have you.”
May 1, 2020
A violent explosion occurred at a St. Louis surfactant plant. There were reports of sulfuric acid being leaked. No injuries were reported.
April 29, 2020
A reported boiler malfunction caused a fire at CSI’s Jennings Road solvent blending plant. The Jennings Road plant is one two company sites that were issued fines from the EPA in Sept. 2019. Under the consent decree with EPA, Chemical Solvents was to “pay a $400,000 penalty and upgrade control devices and monitoring equipment, implement a leak detection and repair program for waste and product tanks, and close a wastewater sump.”
April 18, 2020
“Plumes of smoke and the smell of chemicals emanated from the Chalmette Refining plant in St. Bernard Parish after power failed during heavy thunderstorms on Saturday,” according to NOLA.com. “The incident happened just after 4 p.m.. Chalmette Refining said there were no injuries and the plant flared off excess gasses, though the company did not specify what was burned, but the smell was reported across the New Orleans metro area. Some said it smelled like gasoline, while others in the Irish Channel complained of a burning tire smell in their neighborhood.”
April 16, 2020
A methane gas leak in the building that managed sludge and gas production caused an explosion and subsequent fire. An employee opening the door to check the gas level was caught in the explosion and received minor injuries.
April 15, 2020
An explosion destroyed a digester that produces pulp. Some employees suffered respiratory issues and were treated and released. By October 29, 2020 the company had laid off 177 people from the mill. A statement from the company blamed the layoff on, “the costs and hardships caused by April’s explosion.”
April 10, 2020
The demolition of a shuttered coal plant unleashed a heavy cloud of coal dust over Chicago’s south side neighborhood of Little Village. “The demolition happened as officials are trying to contain COVID-19, a respiratory illness,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “The neighborhood near the plant has already had at least 268 people fall ill with COVID-19.”
April 9, 2020
One person was injured from an explosion of which a blown pressure relief valve was a suspected cause. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said the refinery also flared “excess materials.” No results of air monitoring were available and the company did not disclose if any chemicals were released. More information here.
April 7, 2020
According to a local news report, “OneH2 provides hydrogen fuel tanks for commercial vehicles, such as forklifts. Witnesses said their homes were shaken by the explosion. Some of the houses had doors and windows blown out by the blast...Catawba County officials said about 60 homes near the plant suffered minor damage. One home was declared uninhabitable and the owner is being assisted.” In June 2020, nearby residents asked the plant to be moved to another, safer location.