Arkema Chemical Plant Explodes Near Houston

August 31st, 2017 by Trey Barrineau

At least two containers of hazardous materials blew up and caught fire early Thursday at an Arkema chemical plant about 25 miles northeast of Houston that was heavily damaged by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. More explosions are possible at the facility, which makes products used in the fenestration industry.

Fifteen Harris County Sheriff’s Department deputies went to the hospital for routine examinations after being exposed to fumes from the fires at the plant. They were checked and released, according to the sheriff’s department.

All residents within 1.5 miles of the plant in Crosby, Texas, had been evacuated ahead of the blasts and fires, which were expected and will be allowed to burn themselves out. All  Arkema staff members had abandoned the facility on Tuesday night out of safety concerns.

The crisis began after a huge amount of water overwhelmed the Arkema plant’s primary power source on Sunday morning. Soon after, two sources of emergency backup power were flooded and failed, according to the company. That led to a loss of critical refrigeration for organic peroxide, which will burn if not kept at a low temperature.

“We have been working closely with public officials to manage the implications of this situation, and have communicated with the public the potential for product to explode and cause an intense fire,” a statement from the company reads. “Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out.”

Arkema says the combustible products are stored in several locations on the site, which could lead to multiple explosions over the next few days. The company urges residents to stay away until public safety officials say it’s safe to return to their homes.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt released a statement about the Arkema explosion on Thursday afternoon.

“EPA’s focus is on the safety of those around the facility and we urge those in the area to follow the safety instructions of local authorities,” Pruitt said. “EPA is providing assistance and resources to the first responders in Harris County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). EPA has emergency response personnel on the scene and the agency is currently reviewing data received from an aircraft that surveyed the scene early this morning. This information indicates that there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time. We will consider using any authority we have to further address the situation to protect human health and the environment.”

EPA had deployed an ASPECT aircraft to secure chemical information from the smoke cloud at the plant.

Organic peroxides are a family of compounds used in a wide range of applications, such as making construction materials. Organic peroxides produced at the Crosby plant are used to manufacture PVC for vinyl window profiles, siding, pipes and packaging; acrylic-based paints and coatings for architectural, automotive and industrial applications; solid surface countertops; expandable polystyrene cups and plates; and key components in the enhancement of hoses, gaskets and headlight assemblies for the automotive industry.

Products made by Arkema for the door and window industry include acrylic impact modifiers and processing aids that are used in vinyl window profiles;  low-E coatings for glass; dessicants for insulating glass units; and a wide variety of sealants and coatings for both commercial and residential applications.

According to the company, the facility in Crosby employs 57 people. Arkema says it has only had one lost-time injury in the past seven years.

Headquartered in France, the Arkema Group has 19,700 employees and operates in nearly  50 countries.

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