Two explosions hit the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, TX, near Houston, early today. Further explosions of organic peroxides, which are produced and stored at the plant and are used to make plastic resins, are possible, said Arkema, which is headquartered in Colombes, France.
Three of the site’s nine peroxide containers had lost refrigeration in the aftermath of tropical storm Harvey, one of which caught fire and “popped,” Harris County Assistant Fire Chief Bob Royall told Reuters.
"It wasn't an explosion. I want to be very clear. It was not an explosion," Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said of the incident, according to Reuters. The incident, he added, was a result of containers "basically popping."
"What will happen with these containers that are inside these [18-wheeler] box vans is, they will pop,” Royall told NPR. “They will heat up, and they will catch on fire. And as such, they will burn with intensity until the fuel is consumed—and then they will die down again."
In a statement on its website, Arkema writes that it was notified at 2 AM CDT of two explosions and black smoke coming from its plant in Crosby by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center. An evacuation zone within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant has been set up. Residents within the zone were ordered to flee, reported NPR. Arkema employees were sent home earlier this week.
NPR also reported that 15 sheriff deputies went to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the chemical fire. Eight have been released, and seven others are still being evaluated. The sheriff’s department has said the deputies inhaled a "non-toxic irritant."
Arkema’s statement adds that the site followed its hurricane preparation plan and set up redundancy procedures. “However, unprecedented flooding overwhelmed our primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we lost critical refrigeration of the products on site. Some of our organic peroxides products burn if not stored at low temperature,” writes Arkema.