Chemical plant struck by Harvey now apt to explode

The Arkema chemical plant in Crosby is likely to explode.

That assessment came from the company’s CEO, Rich Rowe, in a press conference Wednesday.

“There is no way to prevent an explosion or fire,” Rowe said.

Late Monday night, the facility lost power from both its primary supply and its backup generators. Employees moved highly volatile organic peroxides into back-up containers to keep them cool. If that class of chemical gets too hot, it can cause fires or explosions.
The Crosby Fire Department evacuated its last employee Tuesday night. Eleven other staff members had been evacuated during the afternoon when the refrigeration in some of the back-up containers also started to fail.

Once government officials saw the chemical inventories for the facility, they ordered another evacuation Tuesday night; the immediate removal of residents from about 300 homes within a mile and a half of the plant.

Tammy Peek is one of those evacuees. She lambasted the company Wednesday morning in a series of tweets, questioning why it warn people of s a danger as soon as its plant lost power.

“You have put our lives in jeopardy,” Peek posted.

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.

He said while the company planned for a worst case scenario, and even brought on extra generators to account for any power loss, the magnitude of the storm overwhelmed the company’s plan.

“It’s impossible to predict with 100 percent confidence a situation like this,” said Arkema CEO Rich Rowe. “No one anticipated six feet of water.”

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. Typically, companies can quench organic peroxides in situations like this by combining them with another chemical, eliminating the danger.

“You’ll lose the feedstock, but it’s safer than letting it go into runaway mode,” Mannan said.

The plant has been shut down since Friday in anticipation of the storm.

The Arkema facility was among the Houston-area sites with the highest potential for harm in an incident, according to a 2016 analysis by the O’Connor Process Safety Center and the Houston Chronicle. That analysis factored risks based on the amount and type of dangerous chemicals on site and their proximity to the public.

It could be six days until the floodwaters at the Arkema…

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