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:
- Arkema, five locations in Texas. ADVISORIES POSTED for its Crosby plant.
- Celanese Corporation, 222 W. Las Colinas Blvd., Suite 900N, Irving, Texas 75039. No advisories listed.
- Dixie Chemical, 10601 Bay Area Blvd, Pasadena, TX 77507. No advisories listed.
- Dow Lonestar, multiple locations. No advisories listed.
- Exxon-Mobil, various locations. ADVISORIES POSTED.
- K-Solv Chemical Distributors, 1015 Lakeside Drive, Channelview, TX 77530. No advisories listed.
- LyondellBasell Industries, over a dozen addresses in the Houston area. No advisories listed.
- Occidental Petroleum, Houston. No advisories listed.
- Trecora Chemical, 12500 Bay Area Blvd., Pasadena, Texas 77507. No advisories listed.