A chemical plant just northeast of Houston is at risk of explosion following the failure of refrigeration equipment that is needed to cool the volatile compounds produced there.
The CEO of Arkema Inc., Rich Rowe, said Wednesday the Crosby, Texas, facility is flooded by 6 feet of water and that both primary and backup power have failed. Without cooling systems, the risk of fire and explosion grows ever more serious. "The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it," Rowe said.
The residential community surrounding the facility has been evacuated in a 1.5-mile radius. According to the EPA, nearly 4,000 people live within a 3-mile radius. The chemical facility too is abandoned since the last 11 employees who had remained to try to keep the products from igniting were pulled out. The chemicals have already warmed to a point where their volatility prevents an effort to move them. Rowe said, "We're really blocked from taking any meaningful action."
The plant manufactures highly combustible organic peroxides, which are used in a wide variety of applications from agriculture to manufacturing. They're used in making epoxy resins for glass-reinforced plastics like fiberglass. They're also used to make explosives.
Locating chemical and fertilizer plants next to residential areas is not all that uncommon in Texas. In 2013, the West Fertilizer Co. in the small town of West, just south of Dallas, exploded, killing 12 first responders and three others and injuring 160. Property damage to the surrounding neighborhoods was extensive. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives eventually ruled that fire was deliberately set. The water poured onto the blaze by the volunteer firemen very likely facilitated the explosion, which blew up with the force of between 7.5 and 10 tons of TNT.
Like many but not all of these volatile facilities, West Fertilizer was built on what was initially isolated agrarian land. But as Texas grew in the ensuing decades, the town of West expanded toward and eventually around the plant.