2017 Arkema plant explosion

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The 2017 Arkema plant explosion was an industrial disaster that took place during Hurricane Harvey in Crosby, Texas. Flooding from the hurricane disabled the refrigeration system at the plant which manufactured organic peroxides.[1][2]

A 2016 analysis done by the Houston Chronicle and Texas A&M[3] identified the Arkema facility as a facility posing a high potential for harm to the public. The analysis and subsequent series by the newspaper revealed major flaws in the regulation of chemical facilities in the U.S.[4]

2017 OSHA fines[edit]

In February 2017, OSHA issued safety fines regarding general safety and maintenance in the sum of $91,724.[5]

Events[edit]

A 12-person ride out crew was assigned to manage the Arkema facility during the hurricane. According to the staff log, the employees were assuming minor flooding at the site.[6] Instead, flooding rapidly outpaced the company's disaster plans.

The plant flooded up to six feet deep, refrigeration was lost on August 29 and people within a 1.5-mile radius were evacuated the following day. Ignited by a runaway reaction of the organic peroxides, the first explosions took place around 1:00 am on August 31.[7]

As flood waters receded, officials decided to stop the waiting for the Crosby community of 2300 by igniting the remaining trailers, on Sunday, September 3, 2017.[8][5] The evacuation zone was lifted on September 4, 2017.[9]

In addition to the explosions, two wastewater tanks overflowed during the storm, releasing more than 23,000 pounds of contaminants that were carried by floodwaters into nearby homes. Noxious toxins including heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and semi-volatile organic compounds have been identified in homes and soil in neighborhoods near the plant. It is uncertain what proportion of the chemical residues originated in gases released by the plant, and what proportion flowed out of the flooded wastewater tanks.[10]

Investigations[edit]

On Thursday, August 31, 2017, the same day as the first fire, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board announced an investigation.[11] As of September 2017, this board was targeted for defunding by the Trump administration.[12]

The Environmental Protection Agency began formally asking questions of Arkema on September 7, 2017.[13]

Fight over public records[edit]

When Arkema North American CEO Richard Rowe[14] announced at a press conference that nothing could prevent an explosion at the Crosby facility, reporters requested documents about the plant.[15] The company repeatedly refused to disclose detailed chemical inventories, facility maps and other documents about the Crosby site to the public, citing concerns about terrorism.[16]

Many of the documents were later released to reporters after Freedom of Information requests.[6] Arkema's 2016 and 2017 detailed chemical inventories, also known as Tier IIs, remain secret.

Legal proceedings[edit]

In September, emergency workers who responded to the explosion filed a lawsuit against the plant for damage to their health caused by the negligence of plant management.[17][18][13]

In September, the civil attorney for Harris County (Houston area) has announced an investigation, and the criminal district attorney announced a pending lawsuit against Arkema.[19][20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chappell, Bill; Kennedy, Merrit (31 August 2017). "Chemical Fire Burns At Flooded Arkema Plant In Crosby, Texas". NPR.
  2. ^ Arkema. "Contact details for Arkema's production plant in Crosby, TX". www.arkema-americas.com. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  3. ^ "Ranking of Chemical Facilities Based on the Potential to Cause Harm to the Public" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Chemical Breakdown". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  5. ^ a b Ray Bogan (September 3, 2017), Texas chemical plant that forced evacuations after Harvey has questionable safety history, Fox News, retrieved 2017-09-12, Controlled burns on nine trailers at the Arkema plant storing approximately 500,000 pounds of organic peroxide were concluded by Sunday evening....The [Harris County] fire marshal's office said...agencies will continue to monitor the air, but noted that no data to date indicates an impact to air quality.
  6. ^ a b "Nine days of chaos: Arkema documents show planning, mechanical failures led to chemical fires during Harvey". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  7. ^ Horton, Alex; Wang, Amy; Bever, Lindsey (31 August 2017). "Explosions possible after 'pops' heard at storm-crippled Texas chemical plant, officials say". Washington Post.
  8. ^ Arkema destroys final chemical containers. Company ends the waiting game in a 'very safe manner,' says official.
  9. ^ Short news, Corporate (September 4, 2017), 1.5 Mile Evacuation Zone Lifted for Area Surrounding Arkema Crosby Facility, www.arkema.com, retrieved 2017-09-12, The Crosby Fire Department and unified command has determined it is safe for residents to return to their homes. The 1.5 mile evacuation zone around the Arkema Inc. facility has been lifted and is no longer in effect.
  10. ^ Wray, Diana (5 October 2017). "Arkema Released Thousands of Pounds of Chemicals in Air and Water, New Lawsuit Says". Houston Press. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  11. ^ Krauss, Clifford (5 September 2017). "Crisis Is Over at Texas Plant, but Chemical Safety Flaws Remain". New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  12. ^ Chemical safety agency that Trump wants to eliminate begins investigation of Texas plant explosion
  13. ^ a b Mufson, Steven; Dennis, Brady (September 7, 2017), "In scathing lawsuit, first responders describe vomiting, gasping at Texas chemical plant fire", Washington Post, retrieved 2017-09-09, Separately, the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday ordered Arkema, a French multinational company, to provide a detailed timeline of events and to respond within 10 days to questions about the handling of organic peroxides...and the measures taken in advance to guard against flooding and loss of electricity.
    The suit...failing to adequately prepare for an extreme flood...and not having a more reliable backup form of refrigeration.
  14. ^ Arkema. "Appointment: Richard Rowe Arkema North America CEO". www.arkema.com. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  15. ^ "Flood-damaged chemical plant explosion likely". NBC News. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  16. ^ "Arkema backtracks, refuses to provide chemical inventory to the public". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2018-01-25.
  17. ^ "Houston flood: Texas emergency crews sue Arkema chemical plant". BBC. 7 September 2017. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  18. ^ Vann R. Newkirk II (September 7, 2017), "The Exploding Chemical Plant Outside Houston Faces Its First Lawsuit", The Atlantic, retrieved 2017-09-09, A new lawsuit filed in a Harris County district court not only directly contradicts those claims from Arkema, but paints a much more harrowing picture of the facility’s meltdown following the flood. The suit alleges that a series of explosions on August 31 spread dangerous fumes to a perimeter 1.5 miles around the plant...and then...overwhelmed medical professionals responding to [police officer's] calls.
  19. ^ Dunklin, Reese (2 October 2017). "Tests show toxic chemicals in soil, water after plant fire, say Houston-area residents". Chicago Tribune. AP. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  20. ^ Dempsey, Matt (4 October 2017). "Lawsuit: Arkema harmed residents before fires, blasts". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 31 October 2017.

Coordinates: 29°56′55″N 95°01′20″W / 29.9485°N 95.0223°W / 29.9485; -95.0223