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TX Chemical Blasts Spawn Suits, Investigation

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

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Specialty chemicals firm Arkema, owner of the Crosby, Texas, facility where a number of explosions were triggered in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in late August, is now facing a criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney, in addition to a number of lawsuits from neighbors and first responders.

The Houston Chronicle reported Friday (Sept. 29) that District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office confirmed it is investigating the incident as a criminal matter. The same evening, the D.A.’s office tweeted, “Companies should be on notice: [We] care when they pollute our air, our environment. We are looking into what happened at Arkema during Harvey.”

arkema plant

Arkema's Crosby, Texas, plant was the site of a series of explosions triggered by trailers storing organic peroxides used in acrylic resins and other products.

Harris County may also sue the company over alleged Clean Air Act violations, according to the newspaper. The Chronicle reports that Arkema has retained attorney Rusty Hardin in relation to action pertaining to the Crosby plant.

Organic Peroxide Blasts

The explosions were brought on by a loss of refrigeration due to massive flooding on the site during Harvey, which dumped up to 50 inches of rain on the area around Crosby. The organic peroxides required refrigeration in order to remain stable; when power and emergency backup generators went down at the site and the flooding of up to 7 feet prevented crews from restoring them, the explosions became inevitable.

The first blast took place early Aug. 31, and the last remaining storage trailers at risk were destroyed in controlled explosions Sept. 4.

Nearby residents were urged to evacuate the area within a 1.5-mile radius the day before the first blast.

Toxic Residue Alleged

On Monday (Oct. 2), the Associated Press reported that testing showed “toxic substances in soil, water and ash samples taken miles” from the Arkema plant, which manufactured organic peroxides, used in acrylic resins, among other products. The samples are described in a letter sent by attorney Mark F. Underwood. According to Arkema, the blasts affected only the trailers where the peroxides were stored.

According to reports, the letter from Underwood on behalf of residents who live near the plant describes a residue found after each of the blasts, at sites well outside the radius that was evacuated. Testing of samples showed volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans, according to the attorney.

Underwood also claims his clients were unknowingly exposed to toxins in groundwater and surface water because of spills at the site, according to the AP.

Deputies Treated

The night of the first explosion, 15 deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office were treated and released from the hospital for nausea and other symptoms after responding to the site; one had to be transported by ambulance. In the immediate aftermath, Arkema officials said the fumes were not especially dangerous, and likened the smoke to “that of a large campfire.”

The company posted on its website a list of potential health effects associated with acute exposure to smoke from a fire involving organic peroxides; these include nausea, drowsiness, dizziness and eye and skin irritation.

Arkema says products produced at the Crosby site include its T-amyl hydroperoxide, VulCup R and a number of products in the Luperox line. These organic peroxide products are used in polymerization and crosslinking in acrylic coating applications as well as products like pipe, wire and solid surface countertops.


Tagged categories: Acrylic; Arkema Inc.; Coatings raw materials manufacturers; Fire; Raw materials

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/4/2017, 11:18 AM)

And how are they going to link the PAHs to the plant? Things as mundane as a fire pit or auto exhaust can lead to PAH concerns. VOCs will also be hard to pin on the many cars were flooded in the area? Gasoline is full of VOC compounds and guess floats. When the flood waters receded, a lot of surfaces could have been left with a coating of these same compounds. Dioxins and furans can be produced by wild fires, burn barrels, old engines burning leaded gas (it's persistent, so it's still a potential source) as well as medical and municipal waste incinerators. I'm not saying the fires at the plant didn't contribute, but there are a lot of potential sources and potential sampling issues that would cloud the whole "it's all the plant's fault" argument.

Comment from peter gibson, (10/4/2017, 12:58 PM)

Free money for one and all again. But on the other hand Arkema was warned of the approaching storm.Locked the place up and went home. Let somebody else worry about it. That stuff dont do well in water. Dah !

Comment from T W, (10/4/2017, 4:21 PM)

This seems more like a controlled burn than out-of-control plant explosions.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/5/2017, 7:55 AM)

Michael, from a technical perspective it shouldn't be terribly hard for an appropriate lab to "fingerprint" the specific mixes of PAH onsite and match to what is nearby.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/5/2017, 11:33 AM)

Tom, I've actually having this issue right now on a site up here....if it is pyrogenic (i.e. from a fire, especially an uncontrolled one), it can be quite difficult to get a clear fingerprint as the uncontrolled burning causes a wide variety of PAHs...It can really mask a single source. With petrogenic (hydrocarbon based), they often have a far more distinct fingerprint. I think they will need to do some pretty intense testing at the plant and in the background (i.e. upwind of the plant) to try to get a solid fingerprint out of the noise.

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