As more and more natural disasters affect parts of the United States, concerns have grown around the safety of hazardous chemical facilities during hurricanes, floods, and other serious weather events. Because of this, the United States Chemical Safety Board has made recommendations to the chemical industry, asking it to develop comprehensive guidelines regarding preparation for natural disasters. This has come on the heels of the Arkema chemical accident that occurred in Crosby, TX in 2017, which resulted in severe explosions due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
Investigation Report of the Arkema Chemical Accident
According to findings contained in the U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigation report, major flooding that happened as a result of Hurricane Harvey was much worse than engineers anticipated when the plant was constructed. Because of this, the plant lost power due to the flooding overwhelming equipment design elevations. As a result, backup power was also lost, as were organic peroxide refrigeration systems. When this happened, the temperature increased to the point of ignition, leading to more than 20 workers exposed to smoke and other harmful toxins from the burning organic peroxide.
A Lack of Planning
After concluding its investigation, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board noted in its report there appeared to be a clear lack of planning for how to protect the plant in the event of a natural disaster. During a press briefing held May 24, 2018, USCSB chairperson Vanessa Sutherland noted that extensive planning should begin as soon as possible, since government reports indicate the likelihood of a similar disaster looms likely in the years ahead.
In an attempt to ensure another accident similar to the Arkema chemical accident does not happen again, the Chemical Safety Board has made numerous recommendations to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. One of the most important involves the Center for Chemical Process Safety, which is a division of the AICE. Based on their report, the Chemical Safety Board is calling on all facilities to conduct extensive risk assessments, which are designed to determine industry-wide guidelines that can be used to prevent additional accidents. By doing so, the Chemical Safety Board believes companies will be able to put various types of safeguards in place prior to future weather events.
Were Warnings Ignored?
While there is some dispute regarding this matter, the Chemical Safety Board indicated in its report that the possibility existed that prior warnings about a possible Arkema chemical accident may have been ignored by the company. According to a 2016 report from FM Global, the insurance company of Arkema, flood risks and other related problems were brought to the attention of Arkema management, but were supposedly ignored. However, Arkema executives dispute this version of events, saying instead engineers were always striving to keep the facility as safe as possible.
In order to ensure new guidelines and safety procedures are put in place prior to the start of the 2018 hurricane season, the Chemical Safety Board has also urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten regulations over reactive hazards that pose a danger to the public. In its report, the Board recommended the EPA seek approval from Congress if necessary, believing this is a matter of great public safety.
Better Understanding of Safety Hazards
Having given its report of the Arkema accident and the changes it feels need to be made, the Chemical Safety Board believes it has brought a much better understanding of the safety hazards facing chemical facilities during floods and hurricanes. However, with the 2018 hurricane season just getting underway, it remains to be seen what may happen if similar weather circumstances present themselves again.
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