The U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s animated video (above) on the explosions at the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby recounts the steps taken by the brave workers stuck in charge of the facility in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. But a few angles less charitable to the company’s emergency planning effort aren’t included — possibly because they’d be a little more involved to animate. For example, the noxious fumes that emanated from the first fire, on the night of August 31, which according to a lawsuit filed later Arkema gave no warning about — and sent 23 people to the hospital, many of them vomiting and gasping for cleaner air.
And another detail: The remote detonations of 6 trailers containing unrefrigerated organic peroxides were carried out by the Houston Police Department’s bomb squad. “The entire police operation was conducted without warning the public,” write the Houston Chronicle‘s Matt Dempsey and Jacob Carpenter. “Until the documents were released earlier this month by the EPA, the public didn’t know who performed the controlled burn, or how it was done.”
The image above, showing a fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) facility loitering as close as 529 ft. from the edge of an unidentified school campus, appeared on slide 13 of a US Chemical Safety Boardpresentation in Waco last week. But where is this place? And where are the other Texas locations where similar facilities storing large quantities of ammonium nitrate are sited within half a mile of a school? The Board warns that there are 18 such cozy-ups in Texas, but doesn’t identify their locations — even the image shown above, grabbed from Google Earth and outlined, omits any street labels.
The Waco presentation talked through the safety agency’s recently released findings on the 2013 explosion in West, Texas (located in Central Texas). A school and a nursing home were among the nearby buildings that received serious damage from the fertilizer blast, which killed 15 people and injured hundreds; the safety board report indicates that holes in that city’s zoning laws allowed the storage facility to be slowly grandfathered into a residential area.
Finding out where chemical storage facilities are located, and what they store, is now more of a fun guessing game than it was before the West explosion: In 2014, then-attorney-general-now-governor Greg Abbott’s office ruled that state Tier II data, which documents hazardous chemical storage at private facilities, would no longer beaccessible to the public. But those open records weren’t really necessary, not if you’re really trying to find the facilities: “You know where they are, if you drive around,” Abbott told reporters.
Raw helicopter footage from abc13 of the fire currently raging at the Enterprise Products natural gas fractionation facility at 135 Sun Oil Rd., just east of Hwy. 146 in Mont Belvieu. By 3:55 in, the view gets better, and you can hear the commentator noting that the fire was visible from above Hobby Airport, just 30 miles away.
Here’s a view from a Seabrook resident’s home this morning, looking across the way to the American Acryl acrylic-acid plant at 11600 Port Rd. off Old Texas 146, less than a mile east of the newer Hwy. 146. A loud chemical explosion is certainly a lot to get excited about in the morning, but people in the area may just want to go back to bed:
Area residents were asked to shelter in place after the blast, but that recommendation was lifted by 11 a.m. Officials said the blast involved toluene, a toxic substance that can cause nausea and tiredness in low to moderate levels.
However, in a recorded message company said the explosion did not cause a release of the chemical.
Update: From NASA engineer Jim Thompson, here’s a collaborative map showing the observations of people nearby, including a photo of the blast as seen from the Johnson Space Center.
“I mean, this was metal that could have decapitated people,” [Grace Ln. resident and salon owner Kimberly Sadberry] said. “It was sharp. We had to put it on a dolly to take it back, it was that heavy.”
CES assured residents nothing like that would ever happen again, but less than two weeks later, another explosion occurred, she said.
Why the grace period now? Responding to complaints about intermittent explosions and noxious smells emanating from the plant — as well as the fiery death last month of a CES employee as he attempted to clean a tanker truck — police officers and federal agents raided the facility yesterday morning. And figuring out what’s really going on there might take a while:
Neighbors of a permitted, non-hazardous waste treatment and disposal plant less than a mile south of Riverside Terrace have been upset by the stench that regularly rises from the new facility. And last weekend there was a bit of an eruption at the CES Environmental Services plant at 4904 Griggs Rd.:
No one was injured in Saturday’s explosion, but it was the latest in a series of incidents involving the treatment facility, which is permitted to handle non-hazardous industrial waste, such as used oil.
The city has received more than 135 complaints about the plant this year, mostly related to the odors.
So what exactly landed in the yards along Grace Lane in McGregor Terrace? Exploded waste?