Hurricane Harvey Offers Chemical Industry Lessons in Extreme Weather Risk

July/August 2018

PE Report
Hurricane Harvey Offers Chemical Industry Lessons in Extreme Weather Risk

Hurricane Harvey photoA federal report on the flooding and fires at the Arkema Crosby chemical plant in Texas following Hurricane Harvey says that more needs to be done to prepare for extreme weather events.

In its investigation, the US Chemical Safety Board found that prior to Hurricane Harvey, safety guidance addressing flood hazards was too general to have helped the Texas facility prevent the incident. The board determined that better guidance is needed to help facilities that store and manufacture hazardous chemicals better prepare for extreme weather events, such as flooding, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, or droughts. The facility had experience with flooding, but no flooding that reached above two feet, as it did during Hurricane Harvey.

The Arkema Crosby plant lies within a flood plain and houses organic peroxides, which are reactive chemicals requiring special low-temperature storage facilities. When the hurricane made landfall on August 24, 2017, it produced historic rainfall, which led to widespread flooding. The flooding at the plant surpassed the equipment design elevations, causing the plant to lose power and use of its organic peroxide refrigeration cooling systems. The organic peroxide products inside refrigerated trailers decomposed, which led to combustion of nearly 350,000 pounds of the peroxides.

The chemical fumes and smoke spread along a highway near the plant and led 21 people to seek medical attention. Due to additional fires at the facility, more than 200 residents living less than two miles away were evacuated from the area for a week.

The CSB report advises facilities with high risk potential to conduct analyses of process hazards or facility siting and evaluate the potential risk of extreme weather events and the adequacy of safeguards. When evaluating and mitigating the risk from extreme weather events, facilities should strive to apply a sufficiently conservative risk management approach, the report says. If flooding is the risk, facilities must ensure that critical safeguards and equipment are not susceptible to failure by a common cause and that independent layers of protection are available in the event of high water levels.

Access the full Arkema report and a related safety video Caught in the Storm: Extreme Weather Hazards.