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David J. Phillip / AP

There were reports of two explosions at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, early this morning, according to The Houston Chronicle and others. Arkema has warned that additional explosions are possible because their chemical products are located in multiple locations.

  • Houston residents living within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant were asked to evacuate.
  • There were reports some deputies and possibly residents were admitted to the hospital after breathing fumes, although the sheriff said Arkema told them it was believed to be a "non-toxic irritant."

Why it happened: The flooding damage from Hurricane Harvey ruined the electricity for the units that were refrigerating the explosive chemicals.

What's next: "The best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out," the company said, in compliance with local authorities' suggestions.

More on Harvey's environmental impact...

"Toxic" mix in Houston: The New York Times reports that Houston officials must grapple with a "toxic stew of chemicals, sewage, debris and waste that still floods much of the city."

  • Among the problems: "Lead, arsenic and other toxic and carcinogenic elements may be leaching from some two dozen Superfund sites in the Houston area."

Spills and releases: E&E News reports that there have been dozens of spills from refineries and chemical plants.

  • "While it could be months before the full environmental impact of the storm — including sewage overflows, leaking underground tanks, and seepage from thousands of submerged homes and cars — becomes clear, preliminary reports show refineries and chemical plants have released millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into the air and water," the report says.
  • E&E spoke to Mathy Stanislaus, who was a top Obama-era EPA official, about Superfund sites. He notes that the biggest dangers are at active cleanups with surface contamination that can spread to floodwaters, as well as the underground storage tanks with oil and chemicals that dot the region.

EPA: The agency said it was inspecting two Superfund sites near Corpus Christi on Wednesday, and is more broadly working with Texas state officials to gauge and respond to the storm's effect. Reuters has more here.

Go deeper

Movie theaters go out of style

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Vaccination rates are going up, people are going out to restaurants again — although the new COVID variant may get in the way — but they still aren't rushing back to the movies.

By the numbers: Some 49% of pre-pandemic moviegoers are no longer hitting theaters, according to a study from the film research company The Quorum, as reported by the New York Times.

3 hours ago - Health

Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles down

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

European countries are doubling down on pressure campaigns to get people vaccinated just as Republicans continue to wage war — often successfully — against vaccine mandates in the U.S.

Why it matters: The starkly different approaches create a sharp contrast between the regions' approaches to vaccination, even as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads around the world.

4 hours ago - World

Two years of COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Two years ago Wednesday, the first case of a mysterious new respiratory disease was discovered in Wuhan, China. Now, the Omicron variant has deepened concerns about just how much longer the coronavirus pandemic will last.

The big picture: More than 5 million people have died since that first case. Most people on earth have lived through some form of lockdown. 54% of the global population has had at least one vaccination, though the shots have been distributed unevenly.