Explosion at chemical plant damaged in Harvey poses health risk to residents: Flood victims told to stay clear to avoid inhaling ‘noxious fumes’ spewing from the facility

Friday, September 1, 2017
By Paul Martin

At least two tons of chemicals at flooded Arkema Inc plant near Houston blew up, sending plumes of acrid smoke that stung eyes and lungs
Environmental Protection Agency called health risks minimal after Arkema plant blast, but urged residents downwind to stay indoors with windows closed
All employees had been pulled from the plant before Thursday’s explosion, and up to 5,000 people had been warned to evacuate on Tuesday
Arkema executive warned that more explosions were expected at the stricken plant producing volatile chemicals called organic peroxides
A 2016 analysis ranked Arkema among about 70 facilities with greatest potential to cause harm in greater Houston

1 September 2017

At least two tons of highly unstable chemicals used in the production of plastics and paint blew up and burned at a flooded plant near Houston, sending up a plume of acrid black smoke that stung the eyes and lungs, raising health concerns.

The fire that began early Thursday at the Arkema Inc chemical plant in suburban Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, burned out around midday, but emergency crews continued to hold back because of the danger that eight other trailers containing the same highly unstable chemical compound could blow, too.

No serious injuries were reported. But the blast added a new hazard to Harvey’s aftermath and raised questions about the adequacy of the company’s master plan to protect the public in the event of an emergency in the flood-prone Houston metropolitan area of 5.6 million people.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Texas environmental regulators called the health risks minimal in Crosby, but urged residents downwind from the flood-stricken plant to stay indoors with windows closed to avoid inhaling the noxious smoke drifting from the blast site.

Arkema had warned earlier in the week that an explosion of organic peroxides stored at the plant was imminent because Harvey’s floodwaters engulfed the backup generators and knocked out the refrigeration necessary to keep the compounds from degrading and catching fire.

All employees had been pulled from the plant before the explosion, and up to 5,000 people living within one-and-a-half miles had been warned to evacuate on Tuesday.

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