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Lawsuits, Investigation Follow TX Chemical Blasts

Thursday, October 5, 2017

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Specialty chemicals firm Arkema is facing a criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney, in addition to a number of lawsuits from neighbors and first responders in Crosby, Texas, where one of its facilities was the location of a number of explosions triggered in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in August.

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

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

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