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Paint Chemicals Trigger Blasts in Flooded TX Plant

Thursday, August 31, 2017

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A series of explosions were triggered Thursday morning (Aug. 31) at an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, after officials say Hurricane Harvey flooded the plant cutting off all power sources and, in addition, crucial refrigeration for the volatile organic peroxides it housed.

Officials at Arkema’s Crosby plant, which produces chemicals used in acrylic resins as well as PVC, fiberglass and other products, warned that the lack of critical refrigeration would inevitably lead to explosions involving the peroxides, which must be refrigerated in order to remain stable.

Bob Royall
Harris County Sheriff's Office, via Facebook

Bob Royall, with the Harris County Fire Marshal’s office, said Thursday morning that the containers of organic peroxides “ruptured” in a series of “pops” followed by fire.

Two explosions are reported to have occurred at the plant just after midnight Thursday morning, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. Arkema said in a statement that the company was in agreement with local public officials that letting the fire burn itself out was the best approach to the situation, as organic peroxides are extremely flammable. Officials are not allowing aircraft or drones over the area of the plant as of Thursday.

Assessing the Danger

Bob Royall, with the Harris County Fire Marshal’s office, said Thursday morning that the containers of organic peroxides “ruptured” in a series of “pops” followed by fire, telling reporters he did “not want the public to think these were massive explosions.” Arkema, in a press release issued after the initial blasts, referred to the incident as "two explosions followed by black smoke."

Arkema Crosby plant
Arkema

The explosions occurred at Arkema's Crosby, Texas, plant, which produces liquid organic peroxides used in acrylic paints and coatings, among other products.

Arkema officials told reporters that chemical vapors released into the air were not dangerous to people, though some could be irritated by the smoke, “similar to that of a large campfire,” according to NBC News. A FEMA representative told the network that the plume of smoke was “incredibly dangerous.”

Early Thursday, after the explosion, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office reported via Twitter that a total of 15 deputies went to the hospital with concerns after inhaling fumes from the fire; as of 10:30 Thursday morning, all 15 had been released. One deputy had been taken via ambulance, while the rest had driven themselves.

Earlier Evacuations

According to Arkema officials, it's impossible to intervene and restore refrigeration to the chemical storage because the plant was inundated with water at a level that the company was not prepared for.

"At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst case scenario. We had redundant contingency plans in place," the Arkema statement read.

"Right now, we have an unprecedented 6 feet of water at the plant. We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. "

The plant itself was evacuated Tuesday when the threat of fire was first recognized. An area within 1.5 miles of the plant was evacuated Wednesday in anticipation of the explosions at the plant, though the evacuation was reportedly not mandatory. Crosby is located just northeast of Houston, and north of Baytown.

As of Thursday morning, Arkema officials said the threat of more explosions at the site remained.

   

Tagged categories: Acrylic; Arkema Inc.; Coatings raw materials manufacturers; Fire; Good Technical Practice; North America; Raw materials; Safety

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