Evacuation zone lifted around Texas chemical plant
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(HOUSTON) — Officials are allowing residents who live inside the 1.5-mile evacuation zone around a Texas chemical plant that was at risk of exploding last week to return home, it was announced Monday.
The facility, owned by Arkema Inc., had lost power and refrigeration capabilities due to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, causing organic peroxides stored in nine containers at the plant to become unstable and break down as they were exposed to the Texas heat.
Arkema’s facility was inundated by more than 40 inches of rain as a result of Harvey and its remnants, which made initial landfall in southeastern Texas on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm. The company said it took several measures to safely shut down the chemical plant ahead of time, but multiple layers of protection to refrigerate the organic peroxides on site failed.
Three containers caught fire at the plant last week, filling the skies over the facility with dark plumes of smoke.
“It’s not a chemical release that’s happening and I want to be clear about that,” Arkema executive Richard Rennard said at a press conference last Thursday. “What we have is a fire.”
Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe said Friday any smoke coming from the containers would irritate the eyes, nose and lungs, and may cause nausea or drowsiness, the same health effects “as you would [have] with any other smoke.”
Arkema also announced that it was opening an assistance center at the Crosby High School on Monday to help “people who were affected by the evacuation order,” it said in a statement.
“We can help you find temporary housing, assist with meeting immediate needs, and provide information on filing claims for more complex issues,” the statement read.
On Sunday, the company safely set the remaining six containers at the facility on fire to proactively resolve the situation at the plant.
By Sunday evening, the containers had largely burned themselves out.
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