Explosion in USA on August 31 2017 09:52 AM (UTC).
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said there are no toxic emissions emanating from a Houston-based chemical plant that exploded Thursday morning, as the company that owns the plant supports allowing the chemical fires to burn themselves out. Pruitt said there are "no concentrations of concern for toxic materials" emanating from the plant after several explosions rocked the neighborhood of Crosby, Texas, early on Thursday morning from the Arkema facility. Arkema described Thursday's events as more akin to chemical fires than explosions. The explosions occurred spontaneously because electricity that supported constant refrigeration was no longer running. The company said it agrees with local authorities that the best course of action "is to let the fire burn itself out," according to a statement. "We want local residents to be aware that product is stored in multiple locations on the site, and a threat of additional explosion remains," the statement warned. "Please do not return to the area within the evacuation zone until local emergency response authorities announce it is safe to do so." Pruitt said he will consider using additional authorities available to him to "further address the situation to protect human health and the environment." For now, EPA's focus is on preserving "safety of those around the facility and we urge those in the area to follow the safety instructions of local authorities," Pruitt said. "EPA is providing assistance and resources to the first responders in Harris County and the Federal Emergency Management Agency." The explosion occurred after days of sustained flooding in southeastern Texas that cut electric power to much of the Houston. The company's chief warned Wednesday that with no power to run the facility's refrigeration, there was no way to prevent an explosion as chemical compounds become less stable. Pruitt said they were able to survey the facility using aircraft equipped with emission monitoring devices to scan for any sign of a toxic plume emanating from the plant. "EPA has emergency response personnel on the scene and the Agency is currently reviewing data received from an aircraft that surveyed the scene early this morning," Pruitt explained. "This information indicates that there are no concentrations of concern for toxic materials reported at this time." Pruitt arrived in the area on Wednesday to meet with local officials and take his place at the federal emergency response center set up near Houston.
At least one police officer was hospitalized after inhaling fumes following two reported explosions that rocked a flooded chemical plant outside of Houston on Thursday morning, officials said. Nine deputies, who also inhaled the non-toxic irritant, drove themselves to the hospital after being near the Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, FOX26 reported. The plant lost power on Sunday amid Tropical Storm Harvey's days-long deluge and a "series of chemical reactions" had occurred because of the lack of refrigeration for chemicals, a plant spokeswoman told The Associated Press late Wednesday. "The fire will happen. It will resemble a gasoline fire. It will be explosive and intense in nature," spokeswoman Janet Smith told The Associated Press late Wednesday. There was "no way to prevent" the explosion, CEO Rich Rowe said. People located in a 1.5-mile radius of the plant was evacuated. In its most recently available submission from 2014, Arkema said potentially 1.1 million residents could be affected over an area of 23 miles in a worst case scenario, according to information compiled by a nonprofit group and posted on a website hosted by The Houston Chronicle. But, Arkema added, it was using "multiple layers of preventative and mitigation measures" at the plant, including steps to reduce the amount of substances released, and that made the worst case "very unlikely." Rowe told Reuters that the company has no way to prevent the explosion because the plant is swamped by six feet of water. The company did not move the chemicals, but told Reuters that it made extensive preparations. Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making everything from pharmaceuticals to construction materials. "As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire," Smith said. "So the fire is imminent. The question is when." The company shut down the Crosby site before Harvey made landfall Friday, but a crew of 11 had stayed behind. That group was removed and residents within 1.5 miles were told to evacuate Tuesday after the plant lost power. Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said the 1.5-mile radius was developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other subject-matter experts. "It's a concerning situation, yes," Moreno said. "But the facility is surrounded by water right now so we don't anticipate the fire going anywhere." The plant falls along a stretch near Houston that features one of the largest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country. Arkema's plant is required to develop and submit a risk management plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, because it has large amounts of sulfur dioxide, a toxic chemical, and methylpropene, a flammable gas. The plans are supposed to detail the effects of a potential release, evaluate worst-case scenarios and explain a company's response. Daryl Roberts, the company's vice president of manufacturing, technology and regulatory services in the Americas, did not dispute that worst-case scenario but said that assumed all the controls in place failed and strong winds blew directly toward Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city. "We have not modeled this exact scenario but we are very comfortable with this 1.5-mile radius," Roberts told the AP. He added that it mostly resembled less serious scenarios that would affect a half-mile radius and a few dozen people. Roberts said the vessels containing the organic peroxide are equipped with controls to slow the release of chemicals. Because of the water, he said, the chemicals will quickly vaporize, reducing the size and scope of the fire.