Residents living near the flooded Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, were allowed to return to their homes early Monday, a day after federal, state, and local safety officials coordinated with Arkema to ignite flammable containers of organic peroxides at the site that posed explosion and fire dangers.
Evacuation orders were first issued by local officials on Tuesday, Aug. 29 in response to danger posed by the organic peroxides after Tropical Storm Harvey flooded the plant with close to two meters of water.
The facility, 43 km northeast of Houston, lost primary and backup power systems used to keep the peroxides cool. As the chemicals warmed up they began to degrade. Three trailers of stored chemicals exploded on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, and six remaining ones were expected to explode as well.
Arkema did not specify exactly how officials ignited the six containers, but after being ignited, they burned themselves out.
Later on Monday, Rich Rowe, the CEO of Arkema’s U.S. operations, apologized to the facility’s residential neighbors. “I hope that they can know how profoundly sorry we are for the impact we had on their lives. And how committed we are to working with them to bring their lives back to normal,” Rowe said at a press conference.
Residents were not given advance warning that the six trailers would be purposely set on fire. But Rich Rennard, Arkema U.S.’s president, said that aerial surveillance showed that peroxides were leaking from the containers. “At that point we made the decision that, in order to maintain the safety and security of the site and the area for the residents, a more aggressive approach was necessary.”
Air quality monitoring shows the area is safe, Arkema says, but residents should contact the company for help in cleaning up any ash or other debris on their property. The company set up a phone hotline and an office at the local high school to help residents submit claims. It says it is committed to helping them get back on their feet after the twin disasters of Harvey and the Crosby site explosions.