Hurricane-damaged catalysts plant in danger of explosion

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Arkema Arkema's Crosby, Texas, plant

A storm-related power outage has created an explosion risk at a plastics catalysts plant operated by Arkema Group in Crosby, Texas.

The facility lost power late Aug. 28 from both its primary supply and its backup generators due to flooding, according to a statement on the company's website.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast Aug. 25, bringing with it heavy rains that have resulted in at least eight deaths and shut down most plastics and petrochemicals plants in the area.

Arkema’s Crosby plant makes liquid organic peroxides that are used primarily in the production of polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC and acrylic resins, as well as polyester-reinforced fiberglass, according to the firm’s website.

The plant shut down in anticipation of the storm, and at first a crew of 11 people stayed at the site.

Late in the afternoon of Aug. 29, however, the situation became serious when backup generators were inundated with water. Employees moved highly volatile organic peroxides into back-up containers to keep them cool, because if this class of chemical gets too hot, it can cause fires or explosions.

"Arkema is limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely. At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real," the company said in the statement, which was updated at 6:50 p.m. on Aug. 29.

The Crosby Fire Department evacuated one employee Aug. 28 and the rest of the staff was evacuated Aug. 29 when the refrigeration in some of the back-up containers also started to fail, according to a story in the Houston Chronicle.

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