Press Releases

Carper, Booker Urge Chemical Safety Board to Investigate Arkema Explosions

Following Harvey, the chemical manufacturing and storage facility outside Houston, Texas experienced multiple explosions early Thursday

Aug 31 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sent a letter to the Chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), Vanessa Allen Sutherland, urging the CSB to investigate the tragic explosions at the Arkema chemical facility near Houston, Texas in order to determine the circumstances which led up to the explosion. The senators also urged CSB to identify any recommendations to help prevent the impacts of similar events in the future, especially in the face more frequent and powerful extreme weather events due to climate change. 

On Thursday morning, the Arkema chemical manufacturing and storage facility outside Houston, Texas experienced multiple explosions when internal temperature controls failed. Earlier in the week, the failure of control systems led to the preemptive evacuation of residents in a 1.5-mile radius around the Arkema facility, which manufactures volatile liquid organic peroxides, among other substances. 

In the letter, the senators noted, “The proximate cause of the explosion was almost certainly the catastrophic flooding caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. However, we believe that measures to better plan for extreme weather, especially given the likelihood that such events will increase in frequency and severity due to climate change, could lead to better resiliency and ability to prevent, reduce or mitigate their consequences.”

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is an independent federal agency charged with investigating conditions and circumstances contributing to industrial chemical accidents. The president’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget recommended cutting all funding from the Chemical Safety Board and eliminating the agency. 

 

The text of the letter to Chairman Sutherland can be found below and in pdf form here.

August 31, 2017

The Honorable Vanessa Allen Sutherland

U.S. Chemical Safety Board

1750 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Suite 910

Washington, DC 20006

 

Dear Chairman Sutherland:

We write to request that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) commence an investigation into the tragic explosions at the Arkema chemical facility near Houston, Texas in order to determine the circumstances which led up to the event, and to identify any recommendations to help prevent the impacts of similar events in the future. The proximate cause of the explosion was almost certainly the catastrophic flooding caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. However, we believe that measures to better plan for extreme weather, especially given the likelihood that such events will increase in frequency and severity due to climate change, could lead to better resiliency and ability to prevent, reduce or mitigate their consequences.

 According to reports[1], the Arkema facility was inundated with more than 40 inches of rain due to Hurricane Harvey, and contains organic peroxides which become unstable and explode when they are not kept sufficiently cool.  The facility lost its primary power supply because of the hurricane, but its emergency generators, which presumably were installed in order to mitigate against primary power outages, reportedly also failed, as did a secondary emergency cooling system. 

The failure of not just one, but two, sources of emergency back-up power raises questions about whether best practices associated with installing and maintaining such systems at facilities located in hurricane- or flood-prone areas were followed, and whether these practices need to be improved.  We believe that the CSB, as an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents, would be the best entity to explore these and any other questions associated with this accident.

Thank you very much for your prompt attention to this matter.

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[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hurricane-harvey/harvey-danger-major-chemical-plant-near-houston-likely-explode-facility-n797581