July 1, 2020

CSB Urges Chemical Facilities to Prepare for Extreme Weather

One month into the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has published a new safety alert and video urging the chemical industry to prepare for potential safety hazards associated with extreme weather events. The agency’s alert stresses that facilities should follow established startup procedures and checklists to ensure safe restarts following a severe weather event. The document also describes additional safety protocols such as checking storage tanks for evidence of floating displacement or damage and examining insulation systems, sewers, drains, furnace systems, electric motors, and warning systems to make sure equipment is fully functional. CSB also encourages companies to review updated guidance from the Center for Chemical Process Safety that outlines an updated approach for assessing and planning for natural hazards.

A recent example of how severe weather can affect chemical facilities is the 2017 fire at the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas. The Arkema Crosby plant manufactures organic peroxides, which are reactive chemicals that are inherently unstable. On Aug. 29, 2017, flooding caused by heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey disabled the plant’s refrigeration system, which prompted the weeklong evacuation of more than 200 people living within a 1.5-mile radius of the facility. As the temperature at the plant increased, the peroxides began to spontaneously combust. The plant was unprepared for the rapid flood rate, and the first combustion took place less than 72 hours after flooding began. Two more refrigerated trailers used to store organic peroxide products began to combust on Sept. 1 before emergency response officials ignited the remaining trailers on Sept. 3. The evacuation zone was lifted on Sept. 4. In total, 21 emergency responders sought medical attention following exposure to smoke coming from the Arkema Crosby facility.

“The severe weather event at Arkema may not be an anomaly,” CSB Chair Katherine Lemos stressed. “In recent years, flooding has intensified across the country and experts predict this trend will continue.”

View CSB’s safety alert (PDF) on the agency’s website. More information about the CSB investigation of the Arkema incident is also available.