New fire erupts at flood-damaged Texas chemical plant

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A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, US on Aug 31, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

HOUSTON (REUTERS) - A raging fire and thick black smoke erupted on Friday evening (Sept 1) from Arkema SA's flood-damaged Texas chemical plant for the second time this week, according to officials and video aired by local broadcasters.

The company said earlier that it expected a series of such fires after the floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey cut electricity feeding refrigeration units needed to keep tanks of volatile organic peroxide from warming and combusting.

Arkema and emergency officials said Friday's fire began around 5 pm local time and that the best course was to allow the fire to burn itself out. Residents within a 2.4-km radius around the Arkema plant were evacuated on Wednesday, hours before the first fire erupted early on Thursday.

"Once the product is consumed by the fire, it will extinguish itself," said Rachel Moreno, a spokesman for the Harris County Fire Marshal. She said she had no information on the results of air monitoring being conducted around the site by federal and state environmental regulators.

The risk of explosions and fires at the plant has made returning to the facility to refrigerate any remaining tanks too dangerous, even though the floodwaters that inundated the plant about 40 km north-east of Houston have receded.

The fires at the plant renewed concerns about the threat posed by floods to the hundreds of petrochemical plants on the Gulf Coast, the country's energy hub, and led to calls for tougher oversight even as the administration of President Donald Trump seeks to roll back regulation.

The federal Chemical Safety Board has launched an investigation into the Arkema incident, and the Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the site for pollutants.

The Crosby plant produces liquid organic peroxides used in the production of plastics, reinforced fiberglass and other materials that can end up in food packaging, countertops, cars and cleaning products, according to the company's website.

About 227,000kg of liquid organic peroxide had been on site, stored in several tanks, before the power went out on Monday. It is unclear how much of it has burned.

Richard Rennard, head of Arkema's acrylic monomers business unit, earlier on Friday defended the company's safety performance, saying it was trying to recover from unprecedented rain that has devastated Texas.

"We're managing our way out of a crisis," Rennard said, adding that Arkema was sending a company team to Crosby to help local residents. Shares of Arkema finished up 1.33 per cent in Paris on Friday.

Arkema makes products the construction, packaging, chemical, automotive, electronics, food and pharmaceutical industries, it has about 140 production centers in Europe, North America and Asia, according to Reuters Eikon.

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