Arkema Texas Plant Explodes, "Black Smoke Fills The Air"

You can't say they didn't warn us: this afternoon, the VP of US manufacturing Daryl Roberts at French chemicals giant Arkema, said the company was on "high alert" as more fires could start at the doomed facility at any moment. Well, that moment took place around 6pm ET, when ABC Houston reported that the doomed Arkema plant has exploded, causing a "massive" fire and "sending dark, black smoke into the air."

According to reports on the ground, light winds are not pushing into areas around the plant, but there is concern the smoke could injure others.

The smoke could be seen in the residential Newport area of Crosby, about 7 miles away. Harris County officials are advising residents who did not evacuate the 1.5-mile area around the plant to close their windows and turn off their air conditioning systems.

"You could call this a warning sign that more explosions or fires could be coming soon," Jeff Carr, a spokesman for Arkema, told the Houston Chronicle.

Hazardous materials crews are headed to the scene.

Rachel Moreno at the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office said that the explosion was a result of the product inside the trailers reaching its combustion state, which is causing the black smoke. She said that residents should be safe if they adhere to the one-and-a-half mile evacuation zone, and advised those who are near the site to shelter in place, close all their windows and turn off their air conditioning.

Moreno said no change was made to the evacuation zone.

This is the second of nine trailers at the plant that has caught fire. The trailers each contain liquid organic peroxides, which needs to be cooled to a certain temperature, otherwise it will explode. Officials said that three of the nine trailers have lost power, according to KPRC.

At least 18 people have been injured since the first fire earlier in the week. One of the injured complained of a burning sensation in the eyes and throat and was still feeling the effects, days later.

As reported this afternoon, the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office has ordered residents within a one-and-a-half mile radius to evacuate the area. In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe said he fully expects the remaining trailers to catch fire, adding the best course of action would be to let the trailers “burn out.”

“The only recourse is to let the eight containers burn out," Rowe said, according to ABC News. "It’s 500,000 pounds of material; let that material burn out."

As reported previously, plant officials said they expected the explosion and fire as chemicals began to heat up after the plant lost power during this week's flood. There are nine containers with 500,000 pounds of material inside. One of the containers already burned.

Earlier this week, officials evacuated workers and residents within a 1.5-mile radius from the plant after flooding which the company says could lead to a massive fire or explosion. On Thursday morning, members of the media were not let within a 2-mile perimeter of the plant as authorities investigated the incident, while nearby residents were briefly advised to shelter-in-place.

The plant makes organic peroxides, some that need to be constantly refrigerated. When they aren't, they become volatile.

Friday's fire was the second fire and explosion after a much smaller one erupted Monday.

The plant's record with state and federal regulators isn't stellar either, something the plant's president acknowledged in a phone conference Friday. "We're not perfect," said Arkema CEO Richard Rennard. "We're doing our very best and and will continue to work to get better."

While the company has refused to give the full breakdown of chemicals stored on location, it has warned that it has around 500,000 pounds of peroxides on the site, all of which are expected to burn.

The company also published a list of the toxic chemicals stored at the doomed facility on its web site, reposted below.

  • AROMATIC 100

All of these substances are now expected to burn down, many in volatile, explosive fashion, in the coming days.


virgule Manthong Sat, 09/02/2017 - 00:31 Permalink

There is something odd in this story - the plant was supposedly under several ft of water less than 2 days ago. Now the photos show dry ground with clean vehicles and clean plant - it should look like waste land.Also, while it's a bit difficult to raise a nuclear plant by a few ft, where is the difficulty in raising 9 containers and gensets on concrete blocks eg 5 ft high, when you know you are exposed to major disaster in case of flooding, in a hurricane prone region? What kind of risk analysis has been done at that plant? What kind of preparations for the annual hurricane season?I'm starting to think they were deliveratly letting it blow up to clain insurance.

In reply to by Manthong

virgule Mr 9x19 Sat, 09/02/2017 - 07:36 Permalink

Well, I read French fluently. The article says the plant is under 2m of water, and was hit by an unforeseable "black swan event", even quoting Nassim Taleb in the same breath. What a joke.What I see on that photo is half the plant under water (no where near 2m), and the other half completely dry. So if the gensets were flooded, it means they were located on the low ground, while there is high ground available nearby, which the water did not reach (looking at the clean areas in the photos). In hurricane country. While storing highly explosive chemicals very sensitive to proper cooling. And the management knew this risk, since they determined it would blow up way before it happened.And I'm the moron?

In reply to by Mr 9x19

Taint Boil virgule Sat, 09/02/2017 - 08:57 Permalink

Yeah thought the same thing ... the contrast between the grass and roads are too "crisp" the grass and roads should be all muddy and hard to distinguish between each other. Where did all the water go? Some how chemicals stored in containers are just going to explode because they can't get to it?? Just drive up and connect temp power ... looking at the picture you could just drive up to the "containers"  ... I guess that is where you store highly explosive materials.If the material is that dangerous you would have multiple back ups, multiple built in redundancy, etc., etc. something does seem odd. 

In reply to by virgule

Not Too Important Moe Hamhead Fri, 09/01/2017 - 21:59 Permalink

Shit's about to get real.Tonight the flooding at the South Texas Project Nuclear Power Plant (2 NPP's) is expected to reach 50+ feet. The facility is only rated to 41 feet for flooding (and is high on the NRC shit list for a poorly run/designed NPP to begin with). They are facing over 9 feet of water pouring into every orifice over that 41 foot safety line.I seriously doubt the generators are anywhere near being dry, and even if, won't survive tonight's flooding if it gets that high. No power to the pumps, Fukushima 2.0 all over again. The radioactive hydrogen gas will build up faster than they can vent, and it will explode, taking the core with it. A week of no cooling water circulation to the Spent Fuel Pools and they will steam off the water and spontaneously catch fire. There's no putting that fire out.As they say, 'There's no athiests in a foxhole'. Whether you're religious or not, you'd better pray that water doesn't destroy that nuclear facility, otherwise the entire southern US will become a nuclear wasteland. Speaking of...I saw my first US radiation baby yesterday. If you don't know what that means, do a search for Chernobyl babies or depleted uranium babies. We're going to see a hell of a lot more, thanks to GE and Japan.

In reply to by Moe Hamhead

MK13 Not Too Important Fri, 09/01/2017 - 22:05 Permalink

Except US reactor design shuts down with help of gravity - unlike Russian ones. And US nuc boys did have 5 day head start of getting reactor cooled before any water breach, unlike Japanese Fuk up boys. My thought is - if something bad does happen at nuc plant in SE Texas, no one should build any - I seriously doubt any funny radioactive stuff will happen.

In reply to by Not Too Important

Not Too Important MK13 Fri, 09/01/2017 - 22:35 Permalink

They've been running both reactors at 100% through the entire time Harvey has been pounding the area. Probably to keep the power to all the referigeration needed for all the high-volatility chemical storage across Houston:'WARNING: “Credible threat of severe accident at two nuclear reactors” due to Hurricane Harvey — “Clear potential for major disaster” — Plant “could be overwhelmed by raging flood waters” — Officials refuse to provide public with information'… takes 30 hours to properly shut down the two NPP's at STP. If they lose all power, off it goes.It doesn't matter if they build any more. Every single one is going to fall apart to atmosphere, the radiation has been destroying the NPP containment since they were first lit off. 20-30+ years later, and it's just a matter of time/weather/war.Fukushima released - and is still releasing - millions of nuclear weapons worth of radiation. The US cannot survive that in Houston. Well, North America can't survive any of it for more than another 8 years or so...

In reply to by MK13

assistedliving (not verified) Lore Sat, 09/02/2017 - 08:23 Permalink

While the company has refused to give the full breakdown of chemicals stored on location...and you want me to go in there and put out that fire?Non merci (that's French for Go fuck yourself you French m/f'ers)

In reply to by Lore