US chemical safety agency says the Arkema disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey should serve as a warning to other companies

More than two months into its investigation of the explosions that took place in at Arkema’s organic peroxides plant in Crosby, Texas in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey, the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) is urging chemical companies in America to reassess their emergency preparedness and continuity of operations plans, and to rework their hazard and risk assessments.

The fires from the Arkema facility resulted when massive flooding from Harvey caused the Crosby plant to lose critical refrigeration of organic peroxides stored there.

‘If these types of storms are going to continue with the frequency or intensity that we are seeing, then [chemical companies] have to make sure that their worst-case scenario is really extrapolating what could possibly happen,’ the CSB’s chairperson, Vanessa Allen Sutherland, said during a 15 November press conference.

She emphasised that chemical companies must become more focused on their emergency planning and response if, as experts predict, climate change will cause more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

Since the CSB investigation is ongoing, very few details were disclosed at the press conference about the agency’s findings to date. However, the board’s lead investigator on the case, Mark Wingard, did say that the guidance Arkema used regarding the amount of elevation required for generators to be safe from flooding ‘might have been insufficient to help prevent this incident’. He also said Arkema has been ‘extremely cooperative’ with the CSB and its investigation.

The CSB plans to finalise and publish its report by next June, which is the start of hurricane season.