CSB: "Major Lessons to Be Learned" from Fires at Arkema Chemical Plant in Houston

Published November 21, 2017

​U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chair Vanessa Allen Sutherland recently provided an update on the agency’s ongoing investigation of the recent fires at the Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, that manufactures organic peroxides. On Aug. 29, flooding from Hurricane Harvey disabled the plant’s refrigeration system, which prompted the evacuation of people within a 1.5-mile radius. 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. According to CSB, the facility’s backup generators were elevated two feet off the ground, whereas the flooding exceeded three feet near the generators. A new 2-D animation available on CSB’s YouTube channel illustrates the events leading up to the fire.

CSB deployed a two-member team to Houston in early September. Agency staff first photo-documented the site, identified evidence of interest, and had initial meetings with Arkema representatives. To date, the team has collected evidence and conducted interviews at the Crosby site and at Arkema’s corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania.

The agency notes that facilities across the Gulf Coast experienced similar problems in the wake of Harvey.

“There are major lessons to be learned from this event that can be shared within the industry to better prepare for future severe weather and environmental events,” Sutherland said. “As tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico increase in frequency or intensity, it is imperative that facilities have effective emergency response procedures in place.”