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Harvey Sparks TX Chemical Blasts, Property Damage

Friday, September 1, 2017

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A series of explosions was 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, by extension, 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 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 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.

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.

"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.

Assessing Other Damages

Although the total tally of damages won’t be calculated for some time, officials are already noting that Hurricane Harvey’s financial devastation will rival that of Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history at $160 billion in costs.

“It is very unclear if Harvey's costs will ultimately surpass Katrina,” Adam Smith, a lead scientist for the federal agency that compiles storm damage costs, told Fortune.

Sgt. Malcom McClendon via defense.gov

Although the total tally of damages won’t be calculated for some time, officials are already noting that Hurricane Harvey’s financial devastation will rival that of Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history at $160 billion in costs.

“However, since this is an unprecedented extreme precipitation event over a major city, in addition to the damage to other cities (and) regions from wind, storm surge and flooding, it's very possible.”

Flood Insurance Concerns

Reuters combined maps of flood imagery and property parcel maps to find that floodwaters had touched at least 30,000 properties, with a total market value of $23.4 billion.

While damages aren’t calculated in terms of property value, the number is significant when taking into account that many of the homeowners in the effects area don’t have flood insurance.

Those outside the typical flood plain aren’t mandated to have flood insurance, and since there hadn’t been major flooding in 16 years, many had dropped the coverage.

In areas in which homes were flooded but not destroyed, home owners are wasting no time gutting their properties in an attempt to prevent mold.

Fortune went on to report that residents in the Northeast Houston region have piled furniture on curbs and have begun ripping out floors and walls.

Resident Valerie Stephens told the publication: "We've already pulled out the doors, the door frames. Then we'll start with the sheetrock and the floors.”

Stephens, who does not have flood insurance, said that she expects to live with concrete floors and sheetrock until she can gather funds for repairs.

   

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

Comment from peter gibson, (9/1/2017, 12:56 PM)

A FEMA rep said.....yes,like he would know. All of a sudden FEMA knows all about peroxides.


Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/5/2017, 8:01 AM)

I don't know why Arkema is being so coy about their peroxides. All you have to do is google "Arkema organic peroxide SDS" and it directs you to their MEKP (Methyl Ethyl Ketone Peroxide), sold under various brand names. MEKP is probably the most common organic peroxide used in polymer production. MEKP does need to be refrigerated. Smoke that is an aerosolized mixture of MEKP and various decomposition products is definitely something I would not want to breathe or get in my eyes.


Comment from Jesse Melton, (9/6/2017, 8:18 AM)

Lots of acrylate salts and polymers are reactive when exposed to water, even atmospheric quantities of water. Cyanoacrylate adhesives (superglue), for example, requires water to catalyze. When done in the most fun way some acrylates will bulk polymerize and produce tremendous, instantaneous heat (explode). Short of vacuum packing, which is an expensive, dangerous mess with bulk products, refrigeration is the easiest and most cost effective way to keep something cool and dry.

You're not going to be able to ascertain what they have onsite by looking at market ready products. Bulk chemicals intended for use in the manufacture of other products are often stored in forms which require further processing prior to use. There are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of different ways to store most chemicals and the way and timeline in which they'll be used defines how it gets stored. There are simply too many variables involved to do anything but guess at the contents of the storerooms that exploded.


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