Explosion concerns prompt evacuation around Arkema plant in Texas

30 August 2017 13:19 Source:ICIS News

Hurricane Harvey aftermath, Texas. Source - John Glaser, Cal Sport Media, REX, ShutterstockA sign during flooding from Hurricane Harvey, 29 August.
Source: John Glaser/Cal Sport Media/REX/Shutterstock

LONDON (ICIS)--France's chemical major Arkema confirmed on Wednesday there is real danger of an explosion at its Crosby plant in Texas following the announcement by local authorities, late on Tuesday, of the evacuation of all residents within 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) from the plant. 

The facility, located east of Houston and producing liquid organic peroxides, was shut on 25 August as a precautionary measure before Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas.

However, the continued rainfall has flooded the facility and the situation has become “serious” as the potential for a chemical reaction which could lead to an explosion or fire is real, the company said.

Arkema said storm had affected electricity supply to the organic peroxides plant, which worsened the situation, as those chemicals require to be refrigerated.

“As of late this [Tuesday] afternoon, the situation at the Crosby site had become serious… The facility has had extraordinary levels of rain, receiving approximately 40 inches [100 centimetres] by Monday [28 August] afternoon,” said the French producer.

“The site has been heavily flooded and without electric service since early Sunday morning… The site lost refrigeration to all of its cold-storage warehouses when electrical power was lost and back-up generators were flooded. Our team then transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers, and continued to monitor the situation.”

However, the continued rainfall and consequent rising water levels at the facility have caused refrigeration on some of the back-up product storage containers to be “compromised”, the company added.

“Arkema is limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates.”

According to the company’s website, the Crosby facility employs 57. Its exact location is 18000 Crosby Eastgate Road, Crosby, Texas.

The Harris County Fire Marshall’s Office, where Crosby is located, confirmed late on Tuesday the evacuation as a precautionary measure.

“Arkema notified the [Harris] County [Fire Marshall’s Office] of a possible reaction of some of the chemicals on site. There is a potential for a chemical explosion leading to a fire at the facility, which could produce a large amount of black smoke,” it said.

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.

Hurricane Harvey has caused widespread disruption in Texas and the wider US as the southern state is a key producer and distributor of crude oil and derivatives.

According to US-based forecaster AccuWeather, the financial impact from the storm could reach as $160bn. The organisation’s chairman, Joel Myers, said: ““This will be the worst natural disaster in American history.”

Several chemical plants in Texas have been affected, with many shut since 25 August.

Crosby, Texas
Arkema's plant location east of Houston.
Niall Swan/ICIS

By Jonathan Lopez