Explosions rattle Arkema chemical plant near Houston

BY    | Updated: Aug 31, 2017 at 10:38 AM
A police officer lays down a safety flare while blocking the road leading to the Arkema SA plant which was hit by floods caused Tropical Storm Harvey near Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. Photo by Adrees Latif/REUTERS

A police officer lays down a safety flare while blocking the road leading to the Arkema SA plant which was hit by floods caused Tropical Storm Harvey near Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. Photo by Adrees Latif/REUTERS

Two explosions at the Arkema chemical plant Thursday sent twin plumes of black smoke 40 feet into the air in Crosby, Texas, as officials said more explosions will continue in the days of rising floodwaters and lost power that have followed Hurricane Harvey.

Houston officials called the company at about 2 a.m. and alerted them to the pair of reported blasts and smoke that occurred on the site, according to a company statement. The company confirmed the blasts on Twitter.

On Thursday, Arkema’s chief executive Rich Rowe said there was “no way to prevent” an explosion. Sitting 25 miles northeast of Houston, the plant manufactures organic peroxides, a group of compounds that decompose and catch fire as temperatures rise. The company stated unprecedented flooding had “overwhelmed” their primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, the plant lost its critical refrigerators for these chemicals, which are used to manufacture plastics.

The explosion happened in one of nine containers kept in a remote area of the plant, said Richard Rennard, president of acrylic monomers division for Arkema, Inc. He added that water remains in the facility, and the company expects all organic peroxides in the remaining eight containers will degrade and eventually burn.

“Certainly, we didn’t anticipate having six feet of water in our plant,” Rennard said during a press conference Thursday.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez compared the hydrocarbons in the smoke to a “campfire,” but Rennard said he did not want to draw such comparisons. When a reporter pressed Rennard to say if the smoke was toxic, he said it was “noxious.”

Officials plan to let the fires burn themselves out, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Fire officials are monitoring the blaze to make sure nearby residents are safe, Chief Bob Royall of the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said in a statement released Thursday afternoon by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“At this time, we are responding to a fire, not a chemical release,” he said.

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