CSB: Better Guidance Needed to Protect Chemical Facilities from Extreme Weather
The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board recommends that the chemical industry develop better guidance to help facilities plan for extreme weather events. CSB’s recommendation appears in its final report on the August 2017 fires at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. The fires occurred when flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused the loss of electrical power to several refrigerated units where organic peroxides were stored. Some of the organic peroxides at the facility required low-temperature storage to prevent the chemicals from decomposing and catching fire. The flooding caused the facility to lose power to its refrigerated warehouses, and more than 350,000 pounds of organic peroxides combusted, releasing vapors into the surrounding community. Twenty-one people sought medical attention and 200 residents were evacuated. From Aug. 24 through Sep. 1, 2017, Hurricane Harvey produced 60 inches of rain in southeast Texas and caused more than five feet of flooding at the Crosby facility, which is in a flood plain. CSB found that an analysis of potential hazards at the facility previously conducted by Arkema employees did not document any risk from flooding to the warehouses where the organic peroxides were stored. But the agency concluded that little industry guidance was available on safeguarding facilities for the kind of flooding produced by Hurricane Harvey. “Our investigation found that there is a significant lack of guidance in planning for flooding or other severe weather events,” said Vanessa Allen Sutherland, who was chairperson of CSB when the agency’s report on the Arkema fire was released on May 24. The facility had redundant safety systems, including backup generators, refrigerated trailers, and a liquid nitrogen cooling system, but all its safeguards failed during the flooding. The report states that “companies need to ensure there are not common modes of failure in their layers of protection” against flooding. The report is available as a PDF download.
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