Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

An oil refinery is seen before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on August 25, 2017 in Corpus Christi, Texas. As Hurricane Harvey comes ashore many of the countries oil refineries are in its path and have had to shut down.

An oil refinery is seen before the arrival of Hurricane Harvey on August 25, 2017 in Corpus Christi, Texas. As Hurricane Harvey comes ashore many of the countries oil refineries are in its path and have had to shut down. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Toxic Plume Threatens After Explosions at Arkema Chemical Plant in Texas

"People don't know what's seeping into their air and their homes."

Jake Johnson

"Now the thing's exploded, and people don't know what's seeping into their air and their homes."
—Lydia DePillis‏, Houston Chronicle

Two explosions and "plumes of black smoke" were reported early Thursday morning at an Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas following warnings from Arkema CEO Richard Rowe Wednesday night that "high water and lack of power" caused by Hurricane Harvey placed the facility at serious risk.

In a statement on Thursday, Arkema urged residents to stay clear of the site and cautioned that the "threat of additional explosion remains."

The company continued:

As we communicated in recent days, our site followed its hurricane preparation plan in advance of the recent hurricane and we had redundant contingency plans in place. However, unprecedented flooding overwhelmed our primary power and two sources of emergency backup power. As a result, we lost critical refrigeration of the products on site. Some of our organic peroxides products burn if not stored at low temperature.

CBS19, the Houston affiliate, first reported the explosions early Thursday and noted that black smoke was emerging from the area.

Arkema's CEO warned Wednesday night that any fire resulting from exploding chemicals would likely "resemble a large gasoline fire."

"The fire will be explosive and intense," he concluded.

As CNN noted, "one deputy was hospitalized after he inhaled fumes" from the plant. "Nine others drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution."

Green groups have in recent days warned that explosions of this kind were likely to result from a massive rain event like Hurricane Harvey striking the heart of the petrochemical industry. As the Huffington Post noted, "Arkema is among dozens of chemical plants and refineries in the Houston area, many of which have sustained damage in this week's flooding, causing harm to residents' health and the environment."

"Living just two miles from one of the largest collections of chemical plants and refineries, I've seen the black smoke burning off from these deadly and dangerous plants, I've smelled the oil and chemicals, and I know the fear that strikes so many of our communities on a daily basis, which has been magnified by Harvey," said Sierra Club organizer Bryan Parras. "Perhaps the most terrifying thing at the moment is that we simply don't know what's happening at these facilities."

Refineries have already begun to emit dangerous pollution as a result of Hurricane Harvey, Common Dreams reported on Tuesday, and local reporters are warning that it is unclear what impact the fumes from Thursday's explosion and its aftermath will have on the population.

"Now the thing's exploded, and people don't know what's seeping into their air and their homes," wrote Houston Chronicle reporter Lydia DePillis‏.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Scientist Says Some Coral Reefs Can Be Saved 'If We Take Immediate Action'

"People need to be aware this is coming up fast, and the time to explore mitigation techniques is now," warns another researcher behind a recently published study.

Jessica Corbett ·


Ro Khanna Lays Out New Vision for American Manufacturing and Economic Progress

"Embracing a New Economic Patriotism plan isn't just about jobs. It's about unifying Americans—from the coasts to the heartland—with a shared purpose."

Brett Wilkins ·


Peace Groups Push US to Use 'All Points of Leverage' to End Saudi Blockade of Yemen

"The Biden administration must take urgent action to compel Saudi Arabia to completely lift this blockade as a humanitarian act, for the sake of millions of Yemenis in desperate need."

Jessica Corbett ·


Freelance Photographer Says He Was Fired by NYT Over Support for Palestinian Resistance

"What is taking place is a systematic effort to distort the image of Palestinian journalists as being incapable of trustworthiness and integrity, simply because we cover the human rights violations that the Palestinian people undergo on a daily basis at hands of the Israeli army."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Cruel Disregard for Life': Rights Groups Condemn Iran's Deadly Attacks on Protesters

Human Rights Watch documented lethal repression by government forces against protesters "in largely peaceful and often crowded settings, altogether killing and injuring hundreds."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo