The Arkema Chemical Plant Exploded Just Outside Houston


On Thursday, the French company Arkema confirmed that there had been two explosions at its chemical plant in Texas. The Arkema plant is located in Crosby, Texas — less than 30 miles northeast of Houston — and was heavily impacted by flooding from Hurricane Harvey after receiving more than 40 inches of rain.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Richard Rowe, the CEO of Arkema's North American unit, warned Crosby residents of the possibility of an explosion due to an "unprecedented six feet of water at the plant." 300 Crosby residents living near the plant were voluntarily evacuated, as well as Arkema employees.

According to Reuters, Arkema found out about the two explosions, as well as the presence of black smoke, at approximately 2 a.m. local time on Thursday. The company also said that a sheriff's deputy had reportedly inhaled chemicals and was subsequently taken to a hospital. In a new statement, Arkema warned Crosby residents that further explosions were possible:

Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out. We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains. Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone.

Reuters explained that these organic peroxides are used to make products like plastic resins, polystyrene, and paints.

The flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey produced the conditions necessary for an explosion. The six feet of floodwater under which the Crosby plant is submerged caused the plant to lose both its principle and backup sources of power, and the plant hasn't had any electricity since Sunday. As a result, the organic peroxides produced at the plant started to heat up and degrade because there was no longer any electricity available to ensure their refrigeration. In his earlier statement on Wednesday, Rowe explained that a lack of "critical refrigeration" might cause not only explosions, but also a "subsequent intense fire."

The Arkema plant's proximity to Houston reaffirms that the city and surrounding regions have been among the areas most severely affected by Harvey, which has now turned its attention north toward Louisiana. The storm reportedly destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and many shelters for evacuees — like the George R. Brown Convention Center and the Gallery Furniture showrooms in Houston — are at capacity.