Aug 31, 2017

Explosions reported at Houston-area chemical plant

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.

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China reopens Wuhan after 10-week coronavirus lockdown

People wearing facemasks stand near Yangtze River in Wuhan. Photo: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

China has lifted its lockdown of Wuhan, the city in Hubei province where the coronavirus outbreak was first reported in December, according to the New York Times.

Why it matters: As cases surged in January, China took the draconian step of sealing off the city of 11 million and shutting down its economy — a response that was viewed at the time as only possible in an authoritarian system, but which has since been adopted by governments around the world.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 1,381,014— Total deaths: 78,269 — Total recoveries: 292,973Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1 p.m. ET: 378,289 — Total deaths: 11,830 — Total recoveries: 20,003Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill
  4. Federal government latest: Senate looks to increase coronavirus relief for small businesses this week — Testing capacity is still lagging far behind demand.
  5. States update: New York death toll surged to its highest one-day total as state predicts a plateau in hospitalizations.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: The race to reopen America
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Trump removes watchdog overseeing rollout of $2 trillion coronavirus bill

Glenn Fine, acting Pentagon watchdog

President Trump on Monday replaced the Pentagon's acting Inspector General Glenn Fine, who had been selected to chair the panel overseeing the rollout of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed last month, Politico first reported.

Why it matters: A group of independent federal watchdogs selected Fine to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, but Fine's removal from his Pentagon job prevents him from being able to serve in that position — since the law only allows sitting inspectors general to fill the role.

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