Agency: Texas chemical plant unprepared for Hurricane Harvey

Federal investigators said Wednesday they've seen no signs that a Houston-area chemical plant that flooded and partially exploded during Hurricane Harvey considered moving its highly unstable compounds offsite as a precaution. Much of Arkema Inc.'s facility in Crosby, just outside Houston, was...

Federal investigators said Wednesday they've seen no signs that a Houston-area chemical plant that flooded and partially exploded during Hurricane Harvey considered moving its highly unstable compounds offsite as a precaution.

Much of Arkema Inc.'s facility in Crosby, just outside Houston, was placed into the 100-year flood plain in 2007. But its emergency response plan, revised as recently as 2016, offers little direction for containing flood waters.

A copy of the plan reviewed by the Associated Press says simply that "care shall be taken to be sure water is kept out" of buildings. A log Arkema kept of workers' efforts to safeguard the plant didn't mention relocating its organic peroxides, which are used in a range of products from plastics to paints.

The company did not answer questions Wednesday about whether it discussed or tried moving the chemicals.

"The facility was not prepared for such heavy rainfall," U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland said during a news conference. She mentioned relocating chemicals as a safety measure companies might use.

The Chemical Safety Board is one of several federal, state and local agencies investigating the incident. Arkema also faces lawsuits from first responders and residents who say they were sickened after being exposed to toxic substances released in the fire and explosions.

As Harvey dumped record-setting rain last August, Arkema's plant lost power. Backup generators, sitting just 2 feet above ground, were engulfed by rising storm waters. Refrigeration systems ultimately failed, leading organic peroxides to destabilize and catch fire.

Arkema officials have insisted that they planned as best they could and couldn't have anticipated such unprecedented rainfall, based in part on their experience with other hurricanes and storms that slammed Texas' Gulf Coast.

The National Hurricane Center warned two days before the plant was flooded out that spots around Houston could get about 50 inches (130 centimeters).

"Our Crosby site has never had flooding anywhere like what we saw in Harvey, since we purchased the property in 1960," Arkema spokeswoman Janet Smith said Wednesday. "Even during Tropical Storm Alison, which caused severe flooding in Houston, we were able to drive trucks around our Crosby plant."

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