Plant explosions, spills test industry's response to Harvey

CROSBY, Texas (AP) – Explosions that rocked a Texas chemical plant after it was inundated by Harvey's floodwaters are raising questions about the adequacy of industry preparations for the monster storm and stoking fears of more accidents in the days ahead.

The owners of the plant in Crosby, Texas, said Friday they will let 500,000 pounds of liquid organic peroxide that caused two explosions continue to burn because they have no way to cool the unstable chemical to prevent it from igniting.

The explosions came after the site lost power and the company's backup generators flooded. The site had flooded before, Arkema Inc. vice president Daryl Roberts said, yet no one at the company had planned for the amount of water that came with Harvey.

Meanwhile, the scope of the damage to the region's refineries and chemical plants continues to expand, as companies report spills and toxic pollution releases linked to toppled fuel storage tanks, shutdown refineries and at least one broken pipeline used to transport hazardous materials.

"The event is still unfolding. But it's clear that what actions and precautions were taken and were in place have proved inadequate," said Bill Hoyle, a former senior investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. "When Crosby is resolved, there are many more dominoes to fall in the region."

The six counties in the Houston area are home to some 230 chemical plants, 33 oil refineries and hundreds of miles of pipelines transporting hazardous materials, according to information from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Sierra Club. That infrastructure stretches east into Louisiana, where the storm traveled after leaving Texas and where damage is just beginning to be assessed.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said they were working with the state to contact plant operators to determine their status.