On August 31, there were two explosions at the flooded Arkema Inc. chemical plant near Houston, which was inundated with 40+ inches of rain. At least 12 emergency responders were affected by the smoke and some were taken to the hospital. The plant manufactures organic peroxides commonly used in everyday products like kitchen countertops, industrial paints, polystyrene cups and plates, and PVC piping.
Unfortunately, this event is not over. Arkema Group is reporting that the cooling system needed to keep the chemicals stable at a cool temperature is offline, as are the backup generators. They are anticipating more chemical releases and possible fire and explosions. There’s been an evacuation zone of the surrounding area within a 1.5 mile radius of the facility.
Hurricane Harvey’s historic and unprecedented rainfall amounts have raised two important policy failures of the Trump administration, both at the hands of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
The first is the Administrator’s delay of a chemical safety rule. The new rule if implemented would improve coordination between chemical facilities, fire fighters, and other local emergency planners and responders; and encourage safety improvements through internal alternatives assessment practices, among other modest changes. Instead of enacting this common sense safeguard, Administrator Pruitt has delayed implementation of the rule for 20 months, leaving fence line communities and first responders in jeopardy.
The second failure is the Administrator’s response (or lack thereof) to climate change. Instead of tackling the biggest health and safety crisis of our time, he cast doubt on this global threat and continues to question science. He was recently quoted on a Texas radio show as saying, “science should not be something that’s just thrown about to try and dictate policy in Washington DC.”
Here in New Jersey, as we watch the devastation in Houston, as we approach the five year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, this seems a stark reminder why it’s important that Governor Christie meet his responsibility under federal law and provide public access to chemical Emergency Response Plans. In New Jersey, every municipality and county is required to have an emergency response plan in the event of a chemical disaster. It is particularly important since New Jersey has more than 5,000 businesses that use more than 10,000 pounds of chemicals and approximately 90 facilities that use extremely large quantities of toxic chemicals.