Flooding from Hurricane Harvey disabled the refrigeration system at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, TX, August 29.
That flooding at the facility, which manufactures organic peroxides, helped lead to a series of explosions at the facility.After the devastation brought on by the explosions, the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) initiated an investigation.
Initial photos of the site released by the CSB showed the devastation that occurred at the flooded plant. Along those lines, the CSB just released an animated video showing just what happened in the hours leading up to the blasts.
The following day, August 30, with flooding continuing, officials ordered people within a 1.5 mile radius of the facility to evacuate. As the temperatures in the trailers containing the chemicals increased, the peroxides spontaneously combusted on August 31. Officials ignited the remaining trailers, on Sunday, September 3. The evacuation zone was lifted on September 4.
The goal of the CSB’s investigation was to gain an understanding of the following areas:
• Chemical process used at the Crosby site
• Specific chemicals stored, used and produced onsite
• Implications for emergency preparedness and response efforts
After the plant ended up flooded and generators swamped in six feet of water, it became a matter of time before the non-refrigerated chemicals would catch fire and explode.
The plant was storing organic peroxides, which explode or burst into flames if they are not refrigerated.
The plant’s multiple diesel generators that were a back-up to keep the units refrigerated had been placed on concrete pads that varied slightly, but which were roughly two feet high, which was not enough to ward off the six feet of flood waters, CSB officials said.
When it became apparent the plant was having serious problems, emergency officials issued an evacuation order for residents to stay at least 1.5 miles from the plant. The company then evacuated its employees when it became apparent the chemicals were going to explode.
After the fires, a group of first responders assigned to monitor the 1.5-mile evacuation area filed suit saying they had been unprepared for the wave of smoke that had left them vomiting and gasping for air.
In their lawsuit, the responders said Arkema downplayed the dangers of exposure to the fire and failed to adequately warn responders to move farther away from the fumes after the first of nine trailers full of volatile organic peroxide caught fire.