August 24, 2023

CSB to Chemical Companies: Prepare for "Harsh" Hurricanes in Coming Months

In an Aug. 21 press release, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board urged chemical companies to prepare their facilities for more frequent and powerful hurricanes. CSB’s warning follows the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent prediction of “above average” activity for the remainder of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricanes generate heavy rains, high winds, and flooding that can damage facilities where chemicals are used, produced, or stored, resulting in chemical accidents that may harm workers and nearby communities. Power outages and delays in emergency response during and after hurricanes present additional concerns for chemical facilities.

“With this hurricane season predicted to be even worse than usual,” said CSB Chairperson Steve Owens, “chemical companies need to act now to make sure that their facilities can withstand the impact of a hurricane or other extreme wind event, including having reliable back-up generators in case there is a loss of power to a facility.”

CSB’s press release cites a fire and a release of toxic chlorine gas that occurred at a facility in Westlake, Louisiana, after Hurricane Laura in 2020. The board’s investigation found that damage from high winds had allowed rainwater to enter the building envelope and make contact with a chlorinating agent, resulting in an explosive chemical reaction. The accident led to closure of part of Interstate 10, a shelter-in-place order issued to the nearby community, and $250 million in damage to the facility. Fire protection equipment failed due to a power outage, and emergency response was delayed by five and a half hours. The facility had not followed industry guidance to prepare for extreme weather.

Another incident occurred in 2017, when heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey flooded a plant that manufactured unstable organic peroxides in Crosby, Texas. The flooding disabled the facility’s refrigeration system, causing the peroxides to start spontaneously combusting less than 72 hours later. More than 200 people living within 1.5 miles of the facility were evacuated between Aug. 29 and Sept. 4.

CSB has been urging chemical companies to prepare for extreme weather since at least July 2020, when the board issued a safety alert and video. “With hurricanes and other extreme weather events becoming increasingly more common and more severe,” Chairperson Owen said, “chemical facilities must be more prepared than ever to prevent a serious chemical accident from occurring.”

Additional information, including links to relevant documents and videos, may be found on CSB’s website.