CROSBY, TEXAS - Two explosions and black smoke were reported early Thursday at a flooded chemical plant in Crosby, located about 25 miles from Houston.
The Arkema Inc. chemical plant was flooded after more than 40 inches of rain fell as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
One deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes from the chemical plant and nine others drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution, Harris County Sheriff's Office reported in a tweet.
One deputy taken to hospital after inhaling fumes from Archem plant in Crosby. 9 others drove themselves to hospital as precaution.— HCSOTexas (@HCSOTexas) August 31, 2017
The Harris County Emergency Operations Center notified the company around 2 a.m. of explosions at the site and also reported black smoke coming from the area.
Officials had previously said they believed that sometime within the next several days chemicals at the plant would degrade and catch fire because the refrigeration storage and backup procedures had failed.
A mandatory evacuation within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant was already in effect. Government authorities are closely monitoring the situation along with the company.
On Wednesday, Richard Rowe, the chief executive of the company's North America unit, said that while the plant made 'extensive preparations,' a fire would be likely.
"The most likely outcome is that, anytime between now and the next few days, the low-temperature peroxide in unrefrigerated trailers will degrade and catch fire."
It appears that outcome is underway and more explosions could occur because the organic peroxide is stored in multiple locations.
"Organic peroxides are extremely flammable and, as agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let the fire burn itself out," according to a statement from the company.
According to Arkema, the fires will resemble a large gasoline fire. It would be 'explosive and intense' and smoke would be released into the atmosphere and dissipate.
The preparations included having backup generators on site and diesel-powered refrigerated containers to hold the organic peroxide. But all those measures have failed due to flood waters overcoming the entire facility, which is only accessible now by boat.
Rowe further explained that the company doesn't expect to be able to get to the plant until the water around Crosby crests in about 5 to 7 days.
In a statement, the company wrote that there's also a small chance the chemical could release into the flood water and not burn.
Officials said chemical refrigeration at the plant had been compromised due to high water and lack of power.
Employees at the plant were evacuated and families were being evacuated into Wednesday. There are 57 employees who work at the facility.
"At Crosby, we prepared for what we recognized could be a worst case scenario," Rowe says. "We had redundant contingency plans in place."
The plant makes organic peroxides which are used in a variety of things from pharmaceuticals to construction materials. The problem is these organic peroxides can burn if not stored and handled under the right conditions. The company says the fires from the burning organic peroxides will emit a thick black smoke which could irritate the eyes, skin and lungs
“We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely. At this time, while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real," the company said.
The Arkema site in Crosby had been shut-down since Friday in anticipation of the storm. The company says high water in the area is unusual, however.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are about 1,300 households and 3,800 people in a three-mile radius of Arkema. The plant’s chemical inventory includes acetone, benzoyl chloride, chlorodifluromethane, cumene, cumene hydroperpoxide, DI(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, ethybenzene, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, mercury, methyl ethylketone, n-hexane, sodium hydroxide, sodium sulfate, sulfuric acid and butyl alcohol.
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