PALM BAY, Fla. – No injuries have been reported after an explosion rocked a chemical plant in Palm Bay Tuesday morning, sending clouds of thick black smoke into the sky.
Police in both Palm Bay and Melbourne tweeted about the incident shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday.
About 30 minutes later, Palm Bay Fire Rescue confirmed that the explosion happened at FAR Chemical on Wilhelmina Court. According to its website, FAR Chemical has been “handling and processing complex and hazardous chemistries” at its Palm Bay facility for the past 35 years.
The chemicals manufactured at the site are used in pharmaceuticals, coatings, adhesives, sealants, composites, flavors and fragrances.
The plant has been evacuated.
According to Palm Bay Fire Rescue, the explosion originated from an industrial storage area containing 30 to 40 50-gallon barrels of an isopropyl alcohol-based solution.
“Hazmat teams are on scene and have confirmed that the materials and resulting plume are non-toxic. One business was evacuated due to the explosion; however, no additional evacuations are required at this time,” a news release read.
The exact cause of the explosion is under investigation, although a Palm Bay Fire Rescue official said a refrigeration issue caused a fire, which in turn ignited barrels of solvent.
As of 1 p.m., U.S. 1 and RJ Conlan Boulevard remain closed to traffic. Residents are asked to avoid the area.
Pictures show thick plumes of smoke coming from the facility.
Tasha Wadsworth told News 6 that the explosion shook her car as she was driving near the plant at about 10:39 a.m. She said the first explosion, was followed by several others.
Cracking and popping noises can be heard in a video she recorded of the black, billowing smoke.
Sky 6 flew over the facility shortly before noon and by that time, the smoke appeared to have dissipated and no flames could be seen.
Firefighters said that by 1 p.m. the flames had been extinguished but extra precautions were being taken to prevent hot spots and potential flare ups.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration records show that on May 21, 2008, a 60-year-old worker at FAR Chemical was trying to neutralize a dangerous material left over from manufacturing when an explosion occurred, killing him.
“On May 21, 2008, Employee #1 was working in a building where by product wastewater was being treated. The water treatment process utilized a 500-gallon glass lined vessel. The wastewater in the vessels was heated, vaporized and condensed. The resultant liquid then traveled through a glass pipe. While Employee #1 was working, the glass piping exploded, and he sustained traumatic injuries form the blast that killed him,” OSHA wrote in its report.
At that time, OSHA issued $14,600 in penalties for what the agency called serious violations, although FAR Chemical later settled for less.
The plant was found to have serious violations once again in 2011 during an inspection prompted by a complaint, according to OSHA.
FAR Chemical was acquired by CPS Performance Materials in 2018.
Check back for more updates on this developing story.