CROSBY, Texas—Harris County safety officials continue to monitor the Akrema Inc. facility in Crosby, after intense flooding from Hurricane Harvey led to two small explosions at the plant.
The explosions, which Harris County safety officials referred to as "pops", occurred around 2 a.m., resulted from overheated organic peroxides and caused fire and black smoke. At the time of the incident, residents living within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant had been evacuated and law enforcement officers had established a perimeter around the area for monitoring.
In an Aug. 31 statement about the explosions, Arkema said the best plan of action was to let the fires burn themselves out.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez gave a press briefing just after 6 a.m. and emphasized the small scale of the combustion incidents, saying there was "not any kind of explosion." Instead, the organic chemicals used as catalysts in the manufacturing of rubber and plastics created a "pop" in their storage containers that caused first gray smoke and then black smoke to emanate from the plant, he said.
Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe issued a statement just before 6 p.m. Aug. 30, warning that there could be an incident at the Crosby plant.
"Organic peroxides may burn if not stored and handled under the right conditions," Rowe said. "At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst-case scenario. We had redundant contingency plans in place.
"Right now, we have an unprecedented six feet of water at the plant," he said. "We have lost primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire," Rowe said. "The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it."
Bob Royall, assistant chief for emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal, oversees the county's Hazmat team and has been working closely with Arkema ahead of the incident. During a press conference, he noted that the situation was unfolding as expected and that safety officials were continuing to monitor it.
"What will happen with these containers (of organic peroxides) … is they will heat up and they will catch fire, and as such they will burn with intensity until the fuel is consumed, and then they will die down again."
Both Royall and Gonzalez emphasized that the smoke from the fires at Arkema site is not toxic. They compared it to standing over a campfire or barbecue pit.
According to the blog on the Harris County Sheriff's Office website, 15 deputies had been taken to the hospital after suffering eye and throat irritation from smoke emanating from the Arkema site. Most of them have been released.
Arkema evacuated all personnel from the plant for their own safety, according to Rowe. The company is setting up a call center to handle questions from Crosby residents and others affected by the fire, as well as a claims center to handle financial claims, he said.
In his statement about the concerns at the Crosby plant, Rowe apologized to everyone affected by the situation and praised company employees, the sheriff's office, local firefighters and federal officials for their courage and round-the-clock dedication in responding to the situation in Crosby.
Arkema's Crosby plant makes liquid organic peroxides under the brand name Luperox. These peroxides are used to produce thermoplastic elastomers, rubber and polymers.
One of Arkema's most recent introductions in its organic peroxide product lineup was Vul-Cup 40C-SP2, which was designed to meet recent changes in the chlorinated polyethylene market.