The Texas Chemical Plant Cluster


If you listened to this morning’s pre-dawn press conference about the Arkema plant in Crosby, you may have heard an important question. A member of the press asked if local officials were monitoring the status of other chemical plants in the area. The answer was surprising – in a word, No. That kind of survey is the responsibility of the manufacturers, not county, state or federal agencies.

Of the dozen plants manufacturing chemicals in the SE Texas area hit by Harvey, only two (Arkema, Exxon) have posted advisories related to storm damage. Hopefully, this is a good sign.

The fire at the Arkema plant is just one instance of the dangerous volatility of these firm’s chemical agents. These can be broadly listed under the umbrella of dangerous or hazardous materials. They – and countless others – represent a modern man-made danger.

The extent of their potential for harm prompted a multinational Emergency Response Guidebook in 2016 which itemizes hundreds of these compounds and synthetics. This guide is chocked full of information including a database and a section on Reactivity. So for example, there is a detailed explanation of all the possible results when the temperature-controlled organic peroxide at Arkema is spilled, heated or exposed to other materials. Here’s an excerpt:

FIRE INVOLVING TANKS OR CAR/TRAILER LOADS: Fight fire from maximum distance or use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles. Cool containers with flooding quantities of water until well after fire is out. BEWARE OF POSSIBLE CONTAINER EXPLOSION. ALWAYS stay away from tanks engulfed in fire. For massive fire, use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles; if this is impossible, withdraw from area and let fire burn. (ERG, 2016)

Imagine a plume of degraded organic peroxide emanating from the Arkema plant traveling the dozen or so miles to the ExxonMobil complex in Baytown. Imagine that polymers have been released at the Exxon site. The repercussions to this kind of mix would take a crew of chemists to comprehend and hazmat teams to contain. This hypothetical may seem far-fetched but it is a possibility facing the weary residents of Texas. Let’s hope it remains a hypothetical.

Here are the firms with chemical plants clustered south and west of Houston with web links and status of advisories:

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2 thoughts on “The Texas Chemical Plant Cluster

  1. Whoever you are Grace – your writing and research are excellent !!!
    In the case of Texas – it was the Governor himself who helped revoke an order brought in by Obama – that Chemical plants should make the public aware of their hazards and not be allowed in highly populated areas.

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    • Thanks for your comment and for filling in that important piece of information about the governor revoking the order. It’s constantly amazing to me the level of irrational hate directed toward Obama and his every achievement. They want to obliterate him from history – and short of murder – will do everything possible to remove his name and his legacy. Most disturbing, they will do this even when it means putting American citizens at risk, as is the case in Houston. This kind of hate is held by a minority yet their actions cause such widespread destruction.

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