Chemical plant owners urged to prepare for worst-case flooding

U.S. Chemical Safety Board says facilities, especially in Gulf of Mexico coast, need to ready for extreme weather events

Arkema’s Crosby, Texas, chemical plant flooded from Tropical Storm Harvey on Aug. 30, 2017. PHOTO: GODOFREDO A. VASQUEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON, DC — “The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is warning that many industrial sites where hazardous materials are stored may not be adequately prepared for extreme weather events.

A dayslong chemical fire outside of Houston during Hurricane Harvey erupted because the plant’s owner never anticipated the worst-case scenario that played out in August as historic rainfall swamped its facility, the federal investigator said Wednesday.

French chemical maker Arkema SA had a disaster plan in place for its Crosby, Texas, plant located 25 miles from downtown Houston, but it didn’t anticipate 6 feet of floodwater. Flooding caused the site’s main electrical source to fail and then forced workers to shut off emergency power generators. Without refrigeration systems to cool the organic peroxides manufactured at the plant, the compounds became unstable and ignited.

The Arkema disaster should be a lesson to other chemical and industrial plants that urgently need to reassess their flood planning, lead investigator Mark Wingard said.

Vanessa Sutherland, chairwoman of the Chemical Safety Board, said Harvey showed that more extreme storms are possible and industrial sites need to re-evaluate how they prepare for flooding and test their worst-case assumptions.”

— Christopher M Mathews, Wall Street Journal

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