Evacuation zone lifted around Texas chemical plant that was at risk of exploding

PHOTO: This combination of satellite images provided by DigitalGlobe shows the Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, on Jan. 29, 2017 and Aug. 31, 2017. PlayDigitalGlobe
WATCH Evacuation zone lifted around Texas chemical plant

Officials are allowing residents who live inside the 1.5-mile evacuation zone around an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, that was at risk of exploding last week to return home, the company announced Monday.

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The facility 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.

Three containers caught fire at the plant last week, filling the skies over the facility with dark plumes of smoke.

The Harris County Fire Marshal's Office had urged residents within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant, which is about 27 miles east of Houston, to evacuate the area. The evacuation order was lifted early Monday after all the product in the nine containers had successfully and safely burned, the company said in a press conference Monday.

There is continued air quality testing in the area, though thus far there has been no evidence of any issues with the results, according to Arkema.

There is no timeline for when the plant will reopen, the company said.

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.

"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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