Investigators Say Harvey Chemical Plant Fires Should Be Wake-Up Call For Industry

Nov 15, 2017

Investigators say chemical plant fires during Hurricane Harvey should be a warning to other industrial facilities ahead of the next hurricane season.

Burned-out trailers sit at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, after Harvey flooded the plant and caused organic peroxides to catch fire.
Credit U.S. Chemical Safety Board

Organic peroxides at the Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, Texas, caught fire during the storm when the plant flooded and lost power. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, a nonregulatory agency, said Wednesday that other chemical facilities should reconsider their own worst-case scenarios.

“Plan and plan again,” Vanessa Allen Sutherland, the board’s chairperson, said. “Don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety by thinking it can’t or won’t happen here.”

Sutherland said there are “major lessons” to be learned from the Arkema fires, lessons the board hopes to share in a final report on the incident by next June.

In the meantime, Sutherland said, if the frequency and intensity of storms continue to increase, the fires should be a wake-up call for other facilities.

“You do have to look at the storms we’ve had just over the last few years, and do your own hazard and risk assessments, again,” she said.

Mark Wingard, the safety board's lead investigator for the Crosby incident, said a “big question” moving forward is whether the established wisdom about flood risks to Gulf Coast industrial facilities is good enough.

“We’re hoping to take this, and use this to try to figure out the best way for people to address these hazards and these risks prior to an event happening, prior to realizing that maybe the flood maps or the information you’re using isn’t sufficient for your hazard level,” he said.