The fire chief called them “pops.” The company said they were “explosions.”
Semantics aside, there was an event this morning at the French-owned Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.
Explosions and Smoke Reported at our Arkema Inc. Crosby Plant https://t.co/j2K6RYwMZ8
— ARKEMA (@Arkema_group) August 31, 2017
This is the latest in the long trail of misfortune striking SE Texas in the wake of Harvey though it was not unexpected.
The French firm manufactures organic peroxides at its Crosby plant. Two days ago, it warned that the plant was without power and multiple attempts to refrigerate these chemicals had failed. The plant was totally evacuated.
Arkema was coordinating efforts with the US Department of Homeland Security and Texas state officials to establish a command post and monitor the state of these chemicals, which had been transferred to nine diesel-powered container trucks.
Yesterday, the situation appeared more severe. Crosby residents within a 1.5 mile radius were evacuated in a planned safety zone. This notice from the Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) detailed the situation:
— Harris Co. FMO (@hcfmo) August 30, 2017
Then around midnight, the inevitable occurred. The chemicals in one of the box vans heated up and according to Harris County police chief Gonzalez, popping noises followed by a “fire” erupted along with black smoke. According to KHOU, a local TV station, fifteen law enforcement personnel in the area were affected and hospitalized. All but two have been released.
Bob Royall, the assistant fire chief for emergency operations, described the incident as “popping noises” followed by fire and smoke. He stated that three of the trailers housing the chemicals had lost refrigeration and “similar decomposition” should be expected.
While Harris county officials are assuring residents that all is going as anticipated and there is no widespread threat, a public notice from Arkema is less positive in nature (highlights added). It mentions “other flammable raw materials” on the site and a broad disclaimer as far as impacts on property.
Potential Effects on Neighbors
The fires from the burning organic peroxides will emit thick black smoke. The smoke might be irritating to the eyes, skin and lungs. There are other flammable raw materials on site that could also catch fire, and Arkema and governmental authorities are monitoring the plant. We will continue to provide health information as developments occur. If you feel that you have been affected by any smoke from this incident, please contact your doctor or otherwise seek medical attention.
With respect to potential impacts on nearby property, that depends upon what happens at the site, which we can’t predict right now. As we get more information, we will provide it.