Preventing Chemical Incidents During Hurricane Season

Source: ronniechua/123RF

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has issued a video safety message and a safety alert entitled “2020 Hurricane Season: Guidance for Chemical Plants During Extreme Weather Events.”

The video and safety alert highlight recent actions by the Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) to produce industry guidance meant to help hazardous chemical facilities better prepare for extreme weather events.

CSB Chairman Katherine Lemos said, “As the nation faces this year’s hurricane season, it is critical that the chemical industry understand and prepare for the potential safety hazards posed by extreme weather events.”

On August 31, 2017, fires erupted at the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas, as a result 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 nearby the facility were evacuated and could not return home for a week.

The CSB’s investigation found a significant lack of industry guidance on planning for flooding or other severe weather events, and called on CCPS to produce such guidance so that incidents like the one at the Arkema plant can be prevented. Recently, CCPS released that guidance, called “Assessment of and Planning for Natural Hazards,” which provides an updated approach for assessing natural hazards, means to address the hazards and emergency planning.

The CSB’s Safety Alert outlines specific procedures to assure safe restarts following a severe weather event. For example, facilities are urged to follow established startup procedures and checklists, and to recognize that “human performance may be compromised due to crisis conditions.”

Additional safety protocols include checking bulk storage tanks for evidence of floating displacement or damage, and examining insulation systems, sewers, drains, furnace systems, electric motors, and other equipment, including warning systems, to make sure they are fully functional.