Hurricane Harvey: Explosion risk at chemical plant forces evacuations

King of Prussia-Based Company Says Texas Plant At Risk Of Explosion Due To Harvey Flooding

The plant, located in Crosby, Texas, roughly 25 miles outside of Houston, was damaged by the storm to the point that the company that owns the plant, Arkema Inc. evacuated its workers on Tuesday and warned that there is real danger of the plant exploding, news that prompted a mandatory evacuation from the area surrounding the plant. If that class of chemical gets too hot, it can cause fires or explosions. Employees at the plant have been evacuated and families were being evacuated into early Wednesday morning. The temperatures of each refrigeration container are being monitored remotely. "A small ride-out crew of 11 people remained on site for some days", the company said in a statement.

The reason this was such a big deal is because the primary challenge to getting the Arkema plant through the storm safely has been ensuring the products, which are supposed to be stored at very low temperatures, keep cool.

"It's impossible to predict with 100 percent confidence a situation like this", said Arkema CEO Rich Rowe.

"Right now, we have an unprecedented six feet of water at the plant", Rowe said.

It would be surprising if Arkema had not considered a scenario like this, said Sam Mannan of Texas A&M University's Mary Kay O'Connor Process Safety Center.

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The Arkema plant, which produces chemicals used in making acrylic-based paints, is now submerged under floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey which have knocked out its primary and its two backup power generators.

"You'll lose the feedstock, but it's safer than letting it go into runaway mode", Mannan said.

Rowe did not disclose the volume of chemicals on the site and said it was speculative to predict how much damage the plant could sustain.

"There is a potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire at the facility, which could produce a large amount of black smoke", the fire marshal, citing Arkema, said.

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