Arkema Is on ‘High Alert’ for More Fires at Texas Chemical Site

  • French firm expects more products to burn as early as Friday
  • U.S. CEO says he’s unsure how long the situation will last

Arkema on High Alert for More Fires at Texas Site

French chemicals producer Arkema SA is bracing for more fires to break out at its Houston-area plant, where cooling systems for flammable products are unlikely to be restored soon even as the flood waters that overwhelmed the site following Hurricane Harvey begin to recede.

“In the next day or two, we would highly suspect that some of these materials will catch fire,” Daryl Roberts, vice president for manufacturing, engineering and regulatory services in the U.S., told reporters during a conference call on Friday. “I can’t tell you if that is next hour or if that is tomorrow, but we certainly should be on high alert.”

Arkema’s plant, located about 25 miles east of downtown Houston in Crosby, was hit by explosions Thursday after floods knocked out power supplies needed to run refrigerators used to cool volatile peroxides. While early evacuation of the site and surrounding community prevented serious injuries, the company’s U.S. Chief Executive Officer Rich Rowe said he expects to allow all 500,000 pounds of the chemicals stored on the site to burn.

So far, just one out of the nine containers filled with peroxides have caught fire, he said during the call, adding that he’s unsure how long the situation will last. Any further fires are expected to be contained on the site, Roberts said.

The plant was among dozens of chemical production sites in the storm’s path that were shut down, knocking out more than half of the production in the U.S. of some of the most-used chemicals and plastics.

Criticism

Arkema has come under criticism for refusing to disclose publicly the exact volumes and location of chemicals known as Tier II Inventory. While the Colombes, France-based company published a list of the chemicals at the Crosby plant on its website, Roberts cited the risk of terrorism as the reason not to provide further information. The company has shared the data with authorities, he said.

Arkema said two backup power generators at the plant were above ground level but declined to say at what elevation they were located. Water rose as high as six feet, the company has said.

The plant has experienced floods in the past few years, but this one was unprecedented, Roberts said.

“By the time this thing turned from a tropical storm into a hurricane and then to a devastating hurricane that we thought would have a five-to-six day impact, in all due respect, it’s something I don’t think that anyone in this area including professionals, has ever predicted,” he said.

The Crosby plant has annual sales of about $30 million, or 0.4 percent of the company’s total, a spokeswoman said by email.

— With assistance by Jack Kaskey

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