While the situation concerning a possible chemical release disaster at the Arkema plant in Houston has been in the news for a while now, it still remains unclear exactly what the current dangers are.
Various officials, mostly from different agencies but sometimes from the same ones, have given conflicting reports — as well as conflicting advice to nearby residents.
What can be said for sure seems to be that there have been at least two explosions at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, and that fires have broken out — all following flooding from Hurricane Harvey that resulted in a power cut.
To provide a bit more information here, the Arkema plant produces organic peroxides, which are later used in the creation of a wide range of products from paint to plastics. While the facility was actually shut down last Friday before the storm hit, and most of the employees left then, there were 11 workers that stayed on site until Monday night when power was lost.
The Guardian provides more: “As official sources gave contradictory advice, an executive with plant owner Arkema said eight more tanks could yet burn and explode, and that to let them do so was ‘the safest thing’. The same executive told a press conference: ‘The smoke is noxious. Toxicity is a relative thing.’
“Arkema said it was notified at around 2am by the Harris County emergency operations center of two explosions and black smoke. A sheriff’s deputy was taken to hospital after inhaling smoke and nine others drove themselves to hospital. Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents within a 1.5-mile (2.4km) radius of the plant. …
“The blasts sent up a 30-40ft flame and a plume that the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), Brock Long, said was hazardous. The Texas commission on environmental quality urged people in the area to stay indoors with windows closed and air conditioners running, and to restrict physical activity. …
“Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt said in a statement, however, that ‘information indicates that there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time’.”
While taking the current EPA chief at his word uncritically, when discussing a matter such as this, is probably not the safest choice to make, the comment still seems to imply that the situation isn’t out of hand. … Though, who knows how things may change in the coming days.
In related news, two oil storage tanks in the general region are now known to have been damaged by floods — together resulting in the spill of around 30,000 gallons of crude oil.
As the floodwaters continue receding, we can no doubt expect to learn about further spills of various kinds. Mold, pathogenic microbes, and mosquitoes should also become more and more of a problem over the coming days and weeks.
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