Following the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recent outlook predicting above average activity for the remainder of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is urging the chemical industry to prepare for potentially more frequent and more powerful hurricanes and other extreme wind events in the months ahead.
CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said, “Hurricanes and other extreme weather events can severely damage chemical facilities and cause chemical accidents that put nearby communities and facility workers in serious risk of harm. With this hurricane season predicted to be even worse than usual, chemical companies need to act now to make sure that their facilities can withstand the impact of a hurricane or other extreme wind event, including having reliable back-up generators in case there is a loss of power to a facility.”
The CSB has investigated two catastrophic chemical incidents caused by hurricanes in recent years.
On August 31, 2017, fires erupted at the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas, because of heavy rain from Hurricane Harvey. Plant equipment flooded and failed causing chemicals stored at the facility to decompose and burn, releasing fumes and smoke into the air.
Twenty-one people sought medical attention from reported exposures to the fumes. More than 200 residents living near the facility were evacuated and could not return home for a week.
On August 27, 2020, extreme winds from Category 4 Hurricane Laura caused severe damage to buildings storing trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA) at the Bio-Lab, Inc. Lake Charles (Bio-Lab) facility in Westlake, Louisiana. After the buildings at the Bio-Lab facility were damaged by Hurricane Laura winds, water came into contact with the TCCA stored inside, initiating a chemical reaction and the subsequent decomposition reaction of the TCCA.
The heat produced from the reaction and decomposition initiated a fire, and the decomposition reaction released a large plume of hazardous gases, including toxic chlorine, into the air. A portion of nearby Interstate 10 was closed for over 28 hours, and a shelter-in-place order was issued.
The hurricane also caused a power outage which resulted in the failure of the facility’s fire protection equipment. The company’s back-up generators also failed. The TCCA decomposition and fire destroyed a production building at the Bio-Lab facility and damaged additional structures. The cost to rebuild the facility was approximately $250 million.
The CSB also recently called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take action to ensure that the nation’s bulk-power system is protected from hurricanes and other high-wind extreme weather events in order to prevent power losses at chemical facilities.
”With hurricanes and other extreme weather events becoming increasingly more common and more severe, chemical facilities must be more prepared than ever to prevent a serious chemical accident from occurring,” Owens said.
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