King of Prussia company responds to chemical fire, explosions at its Texas plant

 View of Arkema's Texas plant. (Bing Maps)

View of Arkema's Texas plant. (Bing Maps)

Following the flood brought in by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, a chemical silo belonging to the company Arkema exploded early Thursday morning. At the company’s headquarters in King of Prussia, CEO and President Rich Rowe said he expects more fires from the eight remaining silos in the plant located outside of Houston. 

“We have organic peroxides stored in multiple locations at the Crosby plant, and we expect these products will ignite in the coming days,” he said.

Floods have permanently damaged the refrigeration systems that stabilize the chemicals. Back-up generators have also failed. In a statement released Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency said chemical contamination from the fire is not yet a concern.

“EPA’s plane instrumentation is capable of measuring 78 different chemicals, including peroxides. Neither testing methods found toxic concentration levels in areas away from the evacuated facility,” it said.

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Some have criticized Arkema for not having a plan to neutralize the chemicals ahead of the storm’s arrival. Darryl Roberts, Arkema’s vice president of manufacturing says this would not have worked.

“To have a plan to individually destroy or neutralize chemically I’ll say ten to 20,000 small containers of material was not a plan that we would see as practical, so it was not in our execution plan,” he said. Roberts added that given the rapid pace of the flooding, the company opted to leave the chemicals in the relatively rural area, rather than risk transporting them on highways.

The organic peroxides are commonly used to manufacture plastics and rubber. With plants worldwide, Arkema has similar production facilities in Bristol and West Chester.

Federal officials have instituted a mile and a half evacuation zone surrounding the plant. Arkema maintains that fumes from the fire cause acute health effects like respiratory and vision problems, and not long-term damage.

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