Chemicals at plant near Houston degrading, explosion coming soon – CEO

Volatile chemicals at a plant northeast of Houston, Texas are degrading and are expected to result in a fire or explosion within the next six days, the company’s CEO told reporters.

There is no way to prevent an explosion or a fire at the Arkema plant in Crosby, CEO Richard Rowe said during a conference call on Wednesday.

The refrigeration system at the plant, which produces organic peroxides for the plastics and rubber industries, has failed due to the massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey, the company said.

All residents within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby were evacuated on Tuesday as a “precautionary measure” because of the risk of an explosion, the local fire marshal’s office said.

The facility remains flooded and has been without electricity since Sunday, Arkema confirmed.

“The situation at the Crosby site has become serious,” the company had said on Tuesday, adding, “At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”

Many homes and businesses are within two miles (3.2 km) of the plant.

Organic peroxides need to be kept cool, otherwise they may explode. The plant’s employees initially tried to move the volatile chemicals from warehouses into refrigerated containers powered by backup generators, but as the flooding intensified, some of the generators failed and the company decided to evacuate all workers on Tuesday.

Facility managers said they were monitoring the temperature levels remotely and working with officials from the Department of Homeland Security.

Arkema’s Crosby facility is among the Houston-area sites with the highest potential for harm in an incident, according to a 2016 analysis by the Houston Chronicle and Texas A&M University’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center.

It would be surprising if the company had not considered a scenario like this, the Chronicle cited Sam Mannan of Texas A&M.

Companies typically would have the ability to quench the organic peroxides in situations like this with another chemical so it’s no longer dangerous.

“You’ll lose the feedstock but it’s safer than letting it go into runaway mode,” Mannan said.