US chem safety board report cites lack of industry guidance in Arkema fire

Source: ICIS News

2018/05/24

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) on Thursday issued its final report on the August chemical fire that occurred at Arkema’s plant in Crosby, Texas, citing a “significant lack” of guidance from the industry in planning for severe weather events like Hurricane Harvey.

“Based on other government reports, we know that there is a greater likelihood of more severe weather across the country,” CSB Chair Vanessa Allen Sutherland said. “Considering that extreme weather events are likely to increase in number and severity, the chemical industry must be prepared for worst case scenarios at their facilities.”

Arkema did not respond to a request for comment.

CSB lead investigator Mark Wingard said that individual companies must weigh the risks of natural disasters without relying on personal previous experience.

According to the CSB final report, Arkema’s Crosby plant, which produces liquid organic peroxides, experienced extreme flooding from Harvey. The flooding caused power to be cut off to low-temperature warehouses where Arkema stored its peroxides.

A facility crew placed the peroxides in refrigerated trailers, but flood water eventually cut power off to them as well. Conditions prevented the crew from moving the peroxides further.

Arkema said in an August statement that the rapid decomposition and eventual combustion had become inevitable after the refrigeration systems at the plant failed.

The France-based chemicals major also confirmed that the facility was largely intact after the fires and flooding.

The CSB also noted that the company took precautions to the fullest extent but was not prepared for the magnitude of flooding that Harvey brought with it.

“I think there is a general movement to look at this in the future,” Wingard said when asked about the industry’s current preparedness, “I will say that Hurricane Harvey was a historical rainfall event.”

The CSB made several recommendations to Arkema, Harris County, as well as the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Center for Process Safety (CCPS) to develop better guidelines in light of extreme weather risks.

Several key lessons from Harvey listed by the CSB include:

- Facilities should perform an analysis to determine susceptibility to potential extreme natural events – such as flooding, earthquakes and high winds.

- When conducting analyses of process hasards, or facility siting, companies should evaluate the potential risk of extreme weather events and the adequacy of safeguards.

- When evaluating and mitigating the risk from extreme weather events facilities should strive to apply a sufficiently conservative risk management approach.

- If flooding is the risk, facilities must ensure that critical safeguards and equipment are not susceptible to failure by a common cause and that independent layers of protection are available in the event of high water levels.

Among other organic peroxides, Arkema produces at its Crosby plant plastic resins, polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyester reinforced fibreglass, as well as acrylic resin.

The CSB noted it does not issue citations or fines, but forms recommendations to plants, industry organisations, labour groups, and regulatory agencies. President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal calls for cutting all funding to the CSB, which would essentially shut the agency down.