A chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema SA, has announced it is evacuating workers on Tuesday due to the risk of an explosion, after Tropical Storm Harvey knocked out power and flooding swamped its backup generators. The French company said the situation at the plant “has become serious” and said that it is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the State of Texas to set up a command post in a suitable location near our site.
The plant, which produces explosive organic peroxides and ammonia, was hit by more than 40 inches of rain and has been heavily flooded, running without electricity since Sunday. The plant was closed since Friday but has had a skeleton staff of about a dozen in place. Following the flood surge, the plant's back-up generators also failed.
According to the plant's website description, it "produces methyl mercaptan, ethyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide (DMS) and methylmercapto-proprionaldehyde (MMP)."
Our products are key ingredients in the manufacture of biodegradable herbicides, pesticides and animal feed supplements. These products are also used in the production of pharmaceuticals, photographic chemicals and circuit boards. Ethyl mercaptan is primarily used as an odorizer for propane gas. The strong odor that ethyl mercaptan adds to propane makes gas leaks easier to detect, protecting homes and businesses. MMP is used in the production of methionine, an essential amino acid and a key component of poultry, swine and ruminant (cattle, sheep, etc.) feed.
The threat emerged once the company could no longer maintain refrigeration for chemicals located on site, which have to be stored at low temperatures. The plant lost refrigeration when backup generators were flooded and then workers transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers.
In a statement released at 3:30pm, Arkema said "refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely."
It then warned that “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."
Earlier in the day, Arkema said that the company "is limited in what it can do to address the site conditions until the storm abates. Arkema does not believe that the situation presents a risk to the community or the ride-out crew, due to the distance between the refrigerated cars and any people. We are working without pause to keep our materials safe. We have no higher priority than the safety of our employees, neighbors and the environment."
Just 6 hours later it admitted that the situations presents a risk after all.
Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, wrote on Twitter that the Crosby plant “is in danger of fire/explosion. The local area is being evacuated. Stay out of area.”
Meanwhile, Reuters adds that other chemical plants have also shuttered production in Texas because of the hurricane. These include Anglo-Swiss chemicals firm Ineos Group Holdings, which said it has been forced to shut down facilities in Texas. Chocolate Bayou Works and Battleground Manufacturing Complex, and INEOS Nitriles’ Green Lake facility are following hurricane procedures and are temporarily shut down, spokesman Charles Saunders said. Huntsman Corp said it has closed six chemical plants in Texas, along with its global headquarters and advanced technology center in Texas.