At least 2 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.
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Stricken plant: At least 2 tons of highly unstable chemicals at the Arkema Inc chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, blew up Thursday amid flooding
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The photo of the left shows the Arkema plant in Crosby on January 29. The image on the right shows the same plant on August 31, after Harvey
A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby oin Thursday
Organic peroxides stored at the plant blew up because Harvey's floodwaters engulfed the backup generators and knocked out refrigeration
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 1-and-a-half miles had been warned to evacuate on Tuesday.
Two explosions in the middle of the night blew open a trailer containing the chemicals, lighting up the sky with 30- to 40-foot flames in the small farm and ranching community of Crosby, authorities said. Aerial footage showed a trailer carcass, its sides melted, burning in a flooded lot.
The Texas environmental agency called the smoke 'especially acrid and irritating' and said it can impair breathing and inflame the eyes, nose and throat.
Fifteen sheriff's deputies complained of respiratory irritation. They were examined at a hospital and released.
The US Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency, launched an investigation into the accident.
'This should be a wake-up call [for] all kinds of plants that are storing and converting reactive chemicals in areas which have high population densities,' said Nicholas Ashford, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert.
The plant is along a corridor near Houston that contains one of the biggest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country.
Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the agency had not received any reports of trouble at other chemical plants in the hurricane-stricken zone.
The flooded plant is seen after fires were reported at the facility on Thursday, just days after Arkema officials had warned that an explosion was imminent
An Arkema executive warned that more explosions were expected in containers storing the highly unstable chemicals used in plastics
Texas A&M chemical safety expert Sam Mannan said the risk management plan that Arkema was required by state and federal law to develop did not address how it would deal with power and refrigeration failures or flooding in the event of a natural disaster like Harvey.
'Certainly we didn’t anticipate having