An official statement on Thursday morning announced of two explosions rocking the flooded chemical plant outside of Houston and a police officer getting hospitalized for inhaling its fumes. Nine other deputies who inhaled the non-toxic irritant when near the Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby which is about 25 miles northeast of Houston. However, they all got themselves checked at the hospital. Tropical Storm Harvey caused a power outage in the plant on Sunday along with a 'series of chemical reactions' at around 2 am. The plant spokeswoman, Janet Smith, informed the loss of refrigeration as the trigger for the reactions to The Associated Press late Wednesday. Janet said that a fire resembling a gasoline fire but explosive and intense in nature will happen.
People within a one and half mile radiuses of the plant were evacuated. Going by the latest submission from 2014, Arkema forecasted about 1.1 million residents could potentially be affected with an area of 23 miles max. The information was collated by a nonprofit group and posted on a website hosted by The Houston Chronicle. Arkema also stated of making the worst case unlikely by deploying 'multiple layers of preventative and mitigation measures' at the plant which includes measures to arrest the amount of substances released.
CEO Rich Rowe stated to Reuters that it was impossible to stop the explosion as the plant was swamped by 6 feet of water. Thus moving chemicals was impossible but the company made extensive preparations. Arkema manufactures organic peroxides which are used in everything from pharmaceuticals to construction materials. Smith stated that temperature rise will lead to the decomposition of the natural state of these materials emitting white smoke which is bound to catch fire though the timeline cannot be forecasted.
Before Harvey stuck on Friday, the company had shut down its Crosby site with a 11 member crew left. But they evacuated along with other residents within 1.5 miles following the Tuesday announcement for evacuation following a power loss. According to Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno, the 1.5 mile radius was decided upon after consultation with subject-matter experts and the US Department of Homeland Security. Monero said that despite the situation being grave, the water logging assures them of the fire not going anywhere.
The plant lies in the area near Houston which has one of the largest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country. Arkema's plant needs to develop and submit a risk management plan to the US Environmental Protection Agency due to the presence of large amounts of sulfur dioxide, a toxic chemical, and methylpropene, a flammable gas. The plan must have details of the effects of a potential release, evaluation of worst-case scenarios and explanation of company's response to it.
The company's vice-president Daryl Roberts did not deny or challenge the worst-case scenario but stated that all controls placed by the company failed amidst strong winds blowing directly towards Houston. He stated that without duplicating the exact scenario, they are comfortable with the 1.5 mile radius like that adopted for less serious scenarios. He assured that the vessels which contain organic peroxide have controls to inhibit the speed of release of chemicals. Further, the water will make the chemicals vaporize quickly, thereby reducing the size and scope of the fire.