Safety board: Standards too weak at Texas chemical plant that exploded during Harvey

Safety board: Standards too weak at Texas chemical plant that exploded during Harvey
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An investigation into the explosion of a chemical plant during Hurricane Harvey last summer found that safety plans failed on all counts and the plant did not properly prepare for the hurricane season.

The findings issued Thursday by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) found that the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, didn't properly account for big floods in its emergency plan and the overall safety standards were too weak, falling below industry standards.

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The failure to account for the six-foot floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey was largely responsible for the explosion of the chemicals at the plant, the probe found.

The organic peroxide chemicals produced and stored at the plant must be kept below 32 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent them from decomposing and catching fire. When the facility lost power from the flooding, the backup cooling systems failed and the trailers flooded, causing the chemicals to catch fire.

“Our investigation found that there is a significant lack of guidance in planning for flooding or other severe weather events. Based on other government reports, we know that there is a greater likelihood of more severe weather across the country," CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said in a statement. "As we prepare for this year’s hurricane season, it is critical that industry better understand the safety hazards posed by extreme weather events.”

Sutherland said plants should anticipate that extreme weather events are likely to increase with every season — and facilities need be prepared.

“Considering that extreme weather events are likely to increase in number and severity, the chemical industry must be prepared for worst case scenarios at their facilities. We cannot stop the storms, but working together, we can mitigate the damage and avoid a future catastrophic incident," she said.

The fire and resulting noxious fumes from the August 31 explosion injured 21 people. More than 200 people were evacuated and could not return home for a week following the incident.