Hurricane Harvey: Explosion risk at chemical plant forces evacuations

Posted August 31, 2017

The Arkema Chemical Plant on Highway 90 located north of Crosby has reported it is in significant trouble at this time. Rowe said the plant initially used generators to power the refrigeration system, but when those failed after the flood, the chemicals were moved to diesel-powered refrigerators.

Arkema says in a news release that it manufactures organic peroxides in Crosby, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

Late Monday night, the facility lost power from both its primary supply and its backup generators.

The materials must be kept at low temperatures otherwise they could combust.

All residents within a 1.5-mile perimeter of the plant have been evacuated.

Arkema CEO Rich Rowe apologized to the people of Crosby for the threat posed by the facility and thanked emergency management and first responder officials for their help.

Authorities with the Department of Homeland Security are monitoring plant temperatures remotely, saying there is no imminent danger, according to KTRK-TV. "A small ride-out crew of 11 people remained on site for some days", the company said in a statement.

It would be surprising if Arkema had not considered a scenario like this, said Sam Mannan of Texas A&M University's Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center.

Many oil refineries and chemical plants shut down production ahead of the storm but there were still reports of an "unbearable chemical smell" in the Houston area. Rowe described this evacuation radius as "conservative", and said he expects that the effects of a fire or explosion would be contained on the site's facilities. The plant's chemical inventory includes acetone, benzoyl chloride, chlorodifluromethane, cumene, cumene hydroperpoxide, DI (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, ethybenzene, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, mercury, methyl ethylketone, n-hexane, sodium hydroxide, sodium sulfate, sulfuric acid and butyl alcohol.