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Faced with unprecedented flooding from Hurricane Harvey and days of persistent rain, Arkema’s Crosby, TX, plant lost all power, causing flammable chemicals to ignite.
Explosions have rocked Arkema’s organic peroxides plant in Crosby, TX, as the result of excessive flooding from Hurricane Harvey and persistent rains in southeast Texas. At approximately 2:00 am CDT on Aug. 31, 2017, Arkema, a global specialty chemicals company, received notification from the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of two explosions and black smoke coming from the Crosby plant. Local officials had previously established an evacuation zone in an area 1.5 miles from the plant, based on their assessment of the situation.
The Crosby plant produces liquid organic peroxides that are used primarily to make plastics and composites, including plastic resins, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride and polyester-reinforced fiberglass, and acrylic resins. Organic peroxides are also used in certain skin treatments and as reagents in pharmaceutical manufacturing. They are flammable liquids that naturally degrade and can become unstable unless refrigerated. If unrefrigerated, the product can rapidly break down and catch fire.
Though the company had made hurricane preparations and had shut down all operations at the plant on Aug. 25, 2017, prior to the hurricane’s landfall, the unprecedented amount of flooding in the area overwhelmed the primary power and two sources of emergency backup power at the plant. The loss of power disabled the plant’s normal and emergency backup refrigeration systems.
Arkema’s president and CEO, Rich Rowe, issued a statement in which he said: “The nation is dealing with a natural disaster of enormous magnitude in Texas. As part of that, Arkema is dealing with a critical issue at our Crosby, Texas, facility.… We are working closely with many governmental authorities and first responders, and we want to thank them for their guidance, professionalism and dedication.”
“At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst-case scenario. We had redundant contingency plans in place. Right now, we have an unprecedented six feet of water at the plant. We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire. The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it. We have evacuated our personnel for their own safety. The federal, state, and local authorities were contacted a few days ago, and we are working very closely with them to manage this matter. They have ordered the surrounding community to be evacuated, too,” he added.
The Crosby plant houses 57 employees and is located in a rural area with no hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, recreational areas, or industrial/commercial areas in the vicinity. The plant has not experienced flooding of this magnitude before, according to Mr. Rowe in his statement.