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.
Harris County Hazmat trucks have arrived and are moving into the evacuation zone. pic.twitter.com/fAYsnEBBCe— Jacob Rascon (@Jacobnbc) September 1, 2017
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.
- 2-ETHYLHEXANOYL CHLORIDE DISTILLED
- ACETIC ACID 84%
- AROMATIC 100
- BENZOYL CHLORIDE
- CAUSTIC POTASH 45%
- CAUSTIC SODA 50%
- CUMENE HYDROPEROXIDE
- CUMENE HYDROPEROXIDE
- DIMETHYL HEXADIENE
- DIMETHYL HEXANEDIOL DH-S
- EPSOM SALTS
- HYDROGEN PEROXIDE 70%
- ISOBUTYLENE ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL
- MINERAL OIL, WHITE
- MINERAL SPIRITS ODORLESS
- MONOSODIUM PHOSPHATE
- NEODECANOYL CHLORIDE >=98.0% UNDISTILLED
- PIVALOYL CHLORIDE 95-100%
- PROPYLENE GLYCOL
- SODIUM BICARBONATE
- SODIUM CARBONATE ANHYDROUS LIGHT
- SODIUM SULFATE ANHYDROUS
- SODIUM SULFITE ANHYDROUS
- SULFUR DIOXIDE
- SULFURIC ACID 93% REAGENT ACS
- T-BUTYL HYDROPEROXIDE 70%
All of these substances are now expected to burn down, many in volatile, explosive fashion, in the coming days.