Chemical Plant Near Houston Explodes: Report

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“Materials could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire. The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it.”

 

 

As Houston struggles to deal with the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, it looks like the situation is about to get even worse as French chemicals group Arkema confirmed two explosions at its plant in Crosby, Texas, and added there was a risk of further explosions at the site.

“We want local residents to be aware that the product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains,” Arkema said in a statement. “Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so.”

In the early hours of Sunday, the Arkema Plant lost power. As a result, all the chemical compounds that have to be kept cool were declared on the brink of catching fire, as there was no refrigeration to maintain the temperature.

CEO Richard Rowe warned if the compounds got too warm, they were likely to explode or catch fire.

“Materials could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire. The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it. We’re really blocked from taking meaningful action,” he said.

Rowe further added the fire would cause smoke that could irritate skin, eyes and lungs.

“Any fire will probably resemble a large gasoline fire,” he continued. “The fire will be explosive and intense. The high water that exists on site, and the lack of power, leave us with no way to prevent it.”

At first, Arkema Inc. was running on substitute power and was able to keep the chemicals cool with the help of a generator. However, due to heavy flooding and torrential rains, the generator also stopped working and the plant went completely out of power.

“The fire will happen. It will resemble a gasoline fire. It will be explosive and intense in nature. As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire. So the fire is imminent. The question is when,” said spokeswoman Janet Smith.

The plant manufactures peroxides and is among dozens of chemical plants in Houston. After the warning was triggered, residents living in 1.5-mile radius were evacuated and were moved to safer places.

According to a manual by AkzoNobel, the chemicals are considered to be “highly combustible.” The manual further states that at high temperatures “a violent combustion or thermal explosion” is possible.

 

Thumbnail credit : Reuters, Stringer

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