Monday, September 4, 2017

Harvey Chemplant Explosion – Part II

This is the third in a series of blog posts about a chemical safety incident at an organic peroxides manufacturing facility outside of Houston, TX. The other posts included:

Well, it looks like the organic peroxide facility incident is physically over. Over the weekend the decision was made by the owner and local emergency response officials to burn off the remaining material rather than wait for decomposition to take its slightly unpredictable course. There was no loss of life and apparently no major structural problems at or around the facility as a result of this incident. The only injuries reported have been the police officers reporting smoke inhalation problems from the initial fire.

Inventory Reporting

There has been much discussion (see here for example) in the popular press over the last couple of days about the company’s failure to share with the public information about the types and quantities of chemicals stored on the site. Apparently, the company has completed the appropriate Tier II EPA reporting requirements for the site, but there is no requirement for the company to make this information public.

On the other hand, C&EN (a publication of the American Chemical Society, a professional organization for chemists) has reported that there are at least 225 metric tons of organic peroxides stored on the site. They also point to the company’s fairly detailed incident web site that provides a list of both the products and raw materials stored on site along with a link to access the Safety Data Sheets for the products. While no industrial chemical is really considered ‘safe’ for human exposure; there is nothing in the list of raw materials of special concern.

NOTE: Thanks to Richard Rosera for pointing me at this article as my subscription to C&EN has lapsed along with my ACS membership.

CSB Investigation

Thursday the Chemical Safety Board announced that it would be investigating this incident, though it has not yet been added to the list of current investigations. The announcement stated that the investigation team would not actually be dispatched until the site was “deemed safe for entry”. We may see an announcement about that today.


On Thursday, I tweeted that: “I am actually kind of sad that CSB is deploying for this relatively low impact incident due to their limited resources. But national news...”. The play that this relatively minor incident has received in the national press made it a certainty that the CSB would have to conduct an investigation. I think that we are going to see in the coming weeks news that there were many more significant chemical releases during the impact of Harvey on the Texas and Louisiana coast than this incident.

Having said that, this may be a good stand-in for all of the chemical incidents that will have taken place as a result of this storm. The CSB does certainly not have anywhere near the resources to investigate all of the inevitable incidents, and given the relatively small size of this facility, the physical investigation should not tie up too many resources. If the CSB uses this incident to take a detailed look at the type of planning that should take place in areas like the petrochemical coast of the Gulf of Mexico, then the investigation will be another valuable contribution to chemical manufacturing safety.

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