Lessons to be Learned from Texas Chemical Plant Incident
- November 28, 2017
- Work Injuries
Despite days of forewarning, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on August 26, no one could predict the ultimate damage it would cause. In Texas alone, the storm was responsible for at least 88 deaths. Harvey knocked out electricity for more than 300,000 people; floodwaters stranded several thousands of people and dropped roughly 65 inches of rain in Nederland and 30 inches in downtown Houston. More than 13,000 individuals were rescued; 185,000 homes were damaged, with 9,000 completely destroyed. In addition, 700 businesses were reportedly damaged.
Harvey hits Arkema
Of those businesses, the Arkema plant, in Crosby, Texas, around 25 miles northeast of Houston, illuminated an issue that has been seen more frequently in recent years – the failure of many safety systems to adequately prepare and keep chemicals and toxic materials safe during natural disasters.
According to reports from both National Public Radio and CNBC, Arkema illustrated the point. It is a French company, with more than 19,000 workers in 133 facilities in 50 countries, including 26 facilities in the United States, five in Texas alone.
When Harvey hit, the Crosby plant, which employs roughly 57 workers, suffered electrical failure, and its generators failed to keep up with the demands of its safety containment system. The system kept the organic peroxide (which Arkema produces for use in plastic automotive parts, adhesives for diapers, and other things) at a cold and stable temperature. At higher temperatures, the chemicals become unstable and may explode and burn.
That is exactly what happened at Arkema. Fortunately, the employees and workers had been evacuated before the systems had failed and the danger of unstable chemicals was overwhelming. Eventually, 10 containers exploded and were allowed to burn themselves out. While authorities claimed the toxins and smoke were not dangerous, citizens within a radius of 1.5 miles of the plant were evacuated as a precaution, and 10 to15 law enforcement officers were hospitalized and later released. There were no reported deaths.
Compounding the seriousness of the actual event was the fact that, just last February, the plant had received 10 safety violations from OSHA and a total of $100,000 in initial fines (which was eventually reduced to $90,000). What’s more, Arkema itself, on its annual securities filings, admitted the potential of several such failures.
This is not the first time potential systemic failures have occurred and caused potential harm in Texas. NPR reports that, in 2013, the West Fertilizer Co. in West, just south of Dallas, exploded, killing 15 people and injuring 160 as the result of an attack by an individual.
Worldwide, perhaps the most famous example of a systemic breach in safety was at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011. Damage from a typhoon led to three meltdowns and the release of radioactive material, which today is still polluting the site as well as parts of the Pacific Ocean.
The energy and materials produced by these plants and companies are invaluable in a modern society, and the economic impact of the companies cannot be measured only in dollars and cents.
What to Do
When it comes to protecting Texans from future harm, perhaps the best course of action is further research and regulation of chemical plants and other hazardous industries. Unless more precautions are taken, more regulations imposed and fines raised, these potential hazards will continue to threaten the workers and residents of Texas and the world at large.
Guajardo & Marks of Dallas has more than 50 years of legal experience and has the knowledge and resources to help with your legal needs. If you have questions about this topic or wish to set up an appointment, contact us online or call us at 972.774.9800.