Do Not Mix: Chemical Plants and Natural Disasters


The consequences of Hurricane Harvey go on and on. Even under the “best” of circumstances the flooding caused by the days of torrential rain would be hazardous as the toxic fluids from automobiles, gas stations, businesses, and household chemicals mix with flooded sewers and sewage treatment facilities. In other words, flooding around any modern town or city is going to result in a toxic stew. However, this region of Texas is far more than a modern city (or collection of cities). It is the petrochemical capital of the United States, as well as having significant numbers of chemical production facilities.

One of those chemical facilities has come front and center as first fires and then explosions ensue at the Arkema plant.  Rachel Maddow started talking about Arkema a couple of days prior to the current crisis. Below are excerpts from her show on Wednesday August 30, 2017. Her guess was right that this was a situation that was bound to escalate.

Arkema makes organic peroxides for inclusion in other compounds and products including PVC pipe. It is made from ingredients that must be stored in a cold environment or they begin degrading, then burning, and possibly exploding. The Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas was inundated with flood waters that first took out the power, and then took out their backup generators, that shut down the cooling system to the tanker car type containers in which they had placed the volatile compounds. Arkema shut down the plant as best they could, pulled out all employees, and sent out an evacuation order for everyone within a mile and a half of the plant. From that point it was only a matter of time until the fireworks began.

Harvey causes fires at Arkema chemical plant – TRMS 8_30_2017 from Rowan Wolf on Vimeo.

Much of the material presented in the video comes from the work of Matt Dempsey, Data Reporter for the Houston Chronicle. He has been researching the situation with the chemical industry in southeast Texas for some time, and blew the whistle about problems at Arkema. Dempsey notes that in 2015, Arkema was one of the highest potential for harm plants in Texas because of one of the compounds they produce and store. Dempsey attempted to get a Tier II from them, all they would say was that they had reduced their stores of that particular chemical. However, when he recently interviewed the CEO of Arkema, he could not get him to state what chemicals are on site, nor to produce the Tier II report.

In 2013, there was a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The plant, located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, killed 15 people.  As reported by Maddow:

The plant was in the middle of a residential area because “there were NO ZONING Laws at all” – So put any building of any kind anywhere, no questions asked.

Also, “there is no state-wide fire code in Texas at all.”

AND

Texas state law BANS local communities from establishing their own fire codes. “It is illegal in the state to require fire alarms, or fire exits , or sprinklers, or anything like that.

The ammonia nitrate was stored in wooden bins, in a wooden building, with no alarm system of any kind. No firewall system of any kind, and there were no sprinklers.

After this epic disaster “the state changed one thing in Texas about storing chemicals like that ammonia nitrate fertilizer … Greg Abbot who is now the Governor was then the state Attorney General decided that “the public would no longer be allowed to know where large quantities of explosive chemicals were stored in their towns.

For the past 30 years, federal law has required chemical makers and handlers to disclose what’s stored on premises. It’s called the Community Right To Know Act.”

“... chemical contents of that building had to be publicly disclosed through what’s called the Tier II report.

Tier II reports had to be provided upon request, and Abbot ended the Tier II report statute.

Tier II reports had to be provided upon request, and Abbot ended the Tier II report statute.

Take a careful look at Texas, because this is the direction that the Republicans and Donald Trump want to head. They want to get rid of all those pesky regulations that get in the way of making a quick buck – regardless of the cost. One of the most recent actions by Trump was to reverse the Obama directive that the consequences of climate change (like rising sea level) had to be integrated into any new construction. Likewise, Texas passed a bill going into effect today (Sept. 1, 2017), and is due to implement, House Bill 1774 – a bill that leans heavily towards protecting insurance companies both in terms of the interest penalties they must pay, and making the process of filing much more difficult.  Another bill they are going to wish they had not passed is Senate Bill 7 that caps state spending. Great timing on both of those.

But I digress.

It seems patently insane in the nations largest petrochemical industrial areas that there are NO zoning laws, NO fire regulations, and NO ability to find out what toxic materials are being used and produced in your own back yard.

Welcome to Trump / Republican / Libertarian / ALEC world where the people get screwed no matter what they do, and it is deemed illegal to protest, or attempt to create a regulation, or challenge the corporations in any way.

9/1/2017 Addendum

In the Houston area, there are 2500 Chemical plants, refineries and other such facilities,

AND

More than 24 current and former toxic waste sites (MSNBC, Ali Velchi)

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