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In Harvey's Wake

Texas chemical plant could explode amid Harvey flooding

As chemicals heat up in a Crosby manufacturing plant, a large-scale fire or explosion looks increasingly likely.

Satellite view of the Arkema SA chemical plant in Crosby, Texas.

In Harvey's Wake

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A fire or explosion looks likely in Crosby, where a chemical plant owned by Arkema Inc. currently sits submerged under six feet of floodwater.

The organic peroxides used in the site’s manufacturing process have begun to heat up after the plant lost its primary source of power, then the power from its back-up generators. Without electricity to power refrigeration, the chemicals could degrade, ultimately leading to some type of explosion or fire.

“The materials could now explode and cause a subsequent, intense fire,” Rich Rowe, Arkema’s president and CEO, said Wednesday. “The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it.”

The facility evacuated all of its employees Tuesday, and approximately 300 people living within 1.5 miles of the plant have been voluntarily evacuated as well. Rowe described this evacuation radius as “conservative,” and said he expects that the effects of a fire or explosion would be contained on the site’s facilities.

Catastrophic floods are nothing new for Houston. But the problem is going to get worse.

Unless the floodwaters recede, Rowe said, it is not possible to enter the facility and try to prevent a fire or explosion. Local officials have told the company that the water level may not recede for as long as six days — and Rowe anticipates that the chemicals on site would “certainly” begin to degrade before six days have elapsed.

Still, Rowe said the fire is “nothing that would pose any long-term harm or impact,” and any sustained environmental impact would be “minimal.”

The company continues to remotely monitor the temperature of each refrigeration container.

The plant, which is located northeast of Houston, was shut down on Friday in anticipation of the hurricane. None of the plant’s chemical inventory was relocated prior to the storm.


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