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CSB Issues Final Report on Arkema Blasts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, an investigative body that examines incidents involving chemical dangers in the country, has released its final report on last August’s fire at an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, amid flooding rains from Hurricane Harvey.

Arkema fire
Images: CSB report

Storage trailers containing organic peroxides exploded and burned in late August and early September when extreme flooding cut off refrigeration.

More than 200 residents living around the plant were evacuated when facilities storing organic peroxides exploded and burned after reaching temperatures at which the materials were no longer stable. The first blast took place early Aug. 31; the final remaining storage trailers were destroyed in controlled explosions Sept. 4.

The CSB says in its report that Arkema had a hurricane-readiness plan in place and employees followed procedure, but the plan did not take into account the “unprecedented” rainfall—up to 50 inches in a period of days around the Crosby area.

Issues Uncovered

The CSB report notes that while Arkema had redundancies in its program for the protection of its organic peroxides, which must be kept refrigerated in order to slow decomposition and prevent blasts, the multiple layers of protection were all overcome by one common mode of failure: flooding. Power to the main refrigerated facilities, backup generators, a liquid-nitrogen cooling system and backup storage trailers were all rendered useless by the extreme flooding.

The investigation also found that Arkema’s flood insurance maps were not updated—they are not required to be by any regulation currently—and few onsite realized that the entirety of the plant was on either the 100- or 500-year flood plain according to 2007 map updates.

Arkema fire

The first trailer exploded early August 31; the last remaining trailers were destroyed in controlled explosions five days later.

Because flooding events have become more common in the U.S. in recent years and that trend is projected to continue, the CSB suggests that the Arkema incident should drive those in the industry—and those regulating the industry—to look more closely at flooding as a potential risk.

The report also notes that “at least 21 people were exposed to decomposition products and smoke from the burning refrigerated trailer and organic peroxides” as a result of the decision by the Unified Command at the site—under the direction of the local volunteer fire department and the county fire marshal—to allow traffic on nearby Highway 90 even as the area was evacuated.

The night of the first explosion, 15 deputies from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office were treated and released for nausea.

Lawsuits, Investigations

Neighbors of the plant have sued, alleging that in the months after the incident, they have experienced nausea, respiratory problems and other symptoms as a result of the fires. Harris and Liberty counties have sued Arkema as well, and Harris County opened a criminal investigation into the incident.

The CSB investigation is not an enforcement or regulatory action; the board simply investigates such incidents from a scientific perspective in order to give recommendations for safety in the future.

Arkema said at the time of the incident that products made 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: Arkema Inc.; Coatings raw materials manufacturers; Fire; Health and safety

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