The Arkema Inc. chemical plant in Texas was set on fire after its organic peroxides exploded, following a power loss during the floods brought by storm Harvey. The explosion of the peroxides is attributed to its instability or degradation when not properly refrigerated, which is ultimately rooted to the plant’s failed backup generators.
“The problem with organic peroxides is they react with themselves. That’s why we refrigerate them,’ said Marco Kaltofen, the president of Boston Chemical Data.
The peroxides are safe when handled properly, but it would cause chain reactions if it gets hot that it becomes unmanageable, said Patrick Dussault, a chemistry professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
He further explained that the when the bond between the oxygen atoms of peroxides breaks, the now free oxygen atoms easily bind with other atoms, releasing energy and heat, promoting instability and degradation of its neighbors.
Kaltofen added that what happened in Arkema is the exact same error that occurred in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, wherein the backup generators were too low that they got flooded during a tsunami.
Likewise, the Texas plant had their backup generators not secured from flooding causing it to fail during the Harvey storm.