Chemical Safety Board Urges Facility Operators to Brace for Intense Hurricane Season

Aug. 21, 2023
Recent investigations highlight vulnerabilities and urgent need for enhanced preparedness measures.

Chemical companies should prepare for more frequent and powerful hurricanes in the coming months based on the current national weather forecast, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) said on Aug. 21.

CSB is calling on plant operators along the Atlantic to safeguard their facilities against storms for the remainder of the year.

“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,” said CSB Chairperson Steve Owens in a news release. “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.”    

CSB noted that hurricanes in recent years have caused catastrophic damages at chemical plants.

In 2017, heavy rains from Hurricane Harvey caused flooding and subsequent chemical fires at the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas. More than 200 people living in the area had to be evacuated from their homes, and 21 people required medical attention for inhaling fumes. Arkema executives faced criminal charges related to the company's actions prior to the storm. Prosecutors argued that the company should have moved chemicals offsite before the storm approached. The charges were later dropped.

On Aug. 27, 2020, extreme winds from Hurricane Laura caused severe damage to buildings storing trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA) at the Bio-Lab Inc. Lake Charles (Bio-Lab) facility in Westlake, Louisiana. Water came into contact with the TCCA stored inside, initiating a chemical reaction that led to a fire and a large plume of hazardous gases into the air. The facility’s fire-protection equipment and backup generators failed during the incident. 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.

CSB determined in its investigation of the Bio-Lab fire that the company failed to adequately prepare for extreme weather.

CSB recently asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure the nation’s bulk-power system is protected from hurricanes and other high-wind extreme weather events to prevent power losses at chemical facilities.    

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