Washington D.C. August 2, 2023 - Today, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) released a letter it recently sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) urging FERC them to address hurricanes and other high-wind extreme weather events in future updates to the Transmission System Planning Performance Requirements for the nation’s bulk-power system.
While commending FERC’s effort to ensure the reliability of the bulk-power system during extreme weather events, the CSB’s noted that FERC’s final rule issued on June 15, 2023, does not address extreme weather events beyond heat and cold, such as high winds and hurricanes, although stakeholders had urged FERC to include such events in the rule. High wind events like hurricanes may occur independently of extreme heat and cold events and may significantly impact the reliability of the bulk-power system, which, in turn, can result in the release of hazardous chemicals from a facility due to loss of power and put workers and the surrounding community at serious risk.
CSB Chairperson Steve Owens said, “It is important for FERC to address hurricanes and other high-wind extreme weather events as soon as possible. The CSB has recently investigated two serious chemical releases that resulted from, or were made worse by, loss of power during hurricanes, and as extreme weather becomes increasingly more frequent, similar chemical accidents likely will occur in the future if the power system fails because of hurricanes or other high-wind events.”
The CSB’s letter details the agency’s two recent investigations at the Arkema facility in Crosby, Texas and the Bio-Lab facility in Westlake, Louisiana:
- On August 24, 2017, Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in southeast Texas. The storm produced unprecedented amounts of rainfall over southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, causing significant flooding. The extensive flooding caused the Arkema, Inc. chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, to lose power, backup power, and critical organic peroxide refrigeration systems. The organic peroxide products inside a refrigerated trailer decomposed, causing the peroxides and the trailer to burn. Twenty-one people sought medical attention from exposure to fumes generated by the decomposing products when the vapor traveled across a public highway adjacent to the plant. Ultimately, three fires burned at the plant over the next few days resulting in the combustion of 35,000 pounds of organic peroxide.
- On August 27, 2020, extreme winds from Category 4 Hurricane Laura caused severe damage to buildings storing trichloroisocyanuric acid (TCCA) at the Bio-Lab, Inc. Lake Charles (Bio-Lab) facility in Westlake, Louisiana. After the buildings at the Bio-Lab facility were damaged by Hurricane Laura winds, water contacted the TCCA stored inside, initiating a chemical reaction and subsequent decomposition of the TCCA. The heat produced from the reaction and decomposition initiated a fire, and the decomposition released a large plume of hazardous gases, including toxic chlorine, into the air. Importantly, the hurricane also caused a power outage which resulted in the failure of the facility’s fire protection equipment. The company’s back-up generators also failed. 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. Also, a portion of nearby Interstate 10 was closed for over 28 hours, and a shelter-in-place order was issued.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating incidents and hazards that result, or may result, in the catastrophic release of extremely hazardous substances. The agency’s core mission activities include conducting incident investigations; formulating preventive or mitigative safety recommendations based on investigation findings and advocating for their implementation; issuing reports containing the findings, conclusions, and recommendations arising from incident investigations; and conducting studies on chemical hazards.
The CSB’s board members are appointed by the president subject to Senate confirmation. The Board does not issue citations or fines but makes safety recommendations to companies, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA.
Please visit our website, www.csb.gov. For more information, contact Communications Manager Hillary Cohen at [email protected]