Sep 4, 2017
During the rains of Hurricane Harvey, with power failing throughout the region, Arkema, a chemical company with locations throughout the U.S., sent home most workers from its Crosby, Texas plant. Company officials knew their volatile chemicals, used in manufacturing of plastics, might explode. In fact, officials made residents from more than a mile around the plant evacuate.
When Arkema’s generators failed, there was no way to keep the chemicals as cold as necessary in refrigerated trucks. There was an explosion, and the resulting fire sent black clouds across Crosby, about 30 miles from Houston.
Another explosion on Friday, September 1 also led to a fire in one of Arkema’s 18-wheeler tractor trailers holding the volatile peroxide. More explosions may occur there.
A safety official from Arkema acknowledged the company’s contingency plans for the hurricane were “not enough.”
That is like pretending the company didn’t understand that “volatile” meant explosions and fire were likely.
Arkema not only understood, it had lobbied in Texas and elsewhere for many years against safety regulations. Arkema was cited by Texas environmental officials for a fire involving peroxide in 2006. This company has paid more than a million dollars for various known safety violations in Texas since 2010. And in 2016, Arkema paid almost two million dollars in fines from a lawsuit about contaminated water near one of its plants in New Jersey.
The problem, of course, is not just Arkema, one of more than 500 oil and chemical plants throughout the Houston area, using materials hazardous to their work force and nearby residents.
Arkema is one small example of what it means when companies are not made to plan for predictable hazards involving storms, let alone unpredictable accidents.
And Texas is not alone in lax attitudes toward enforcing what regulations exist to protect the water, air and land we all need to survive.