Texas chemical plant that forced evacuations after Harvey has questionable safety history

The flooded Texas chemical plant where explosions forced evacuations last week had received 10 serious violations over workplace safety recently, according to a report obtained by Fox News.

Controlled burns on nine trailers at the Arkema plant storing approximately 500,000 pounds of organic peroxide were concluded by Sunday evening, the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations were issued in February after a planned inspection of the site in Crosby, outside Houston, last year. The violations were entitled “penalty and failure to abate event history”; in other words, they were issues that Arkema was told to fix in the past but didn’t. The violations dealt with the general safety and maintenance of the plant.  

One of the violations was given because inspectors said the company didn’t properly control hazards created by atmospheric discharge from the pressure relief devices on a sulfur dioxide tank.

Among the other violations: some aisles and passageways were not kept clear and in good repair, some plant diagrams were not displayed properly or were inaccurate, employees were not given proper refresher training and some tests were not completed.

Arkema did not respond to Fox News’ questions about the OSHA violations; however the company did speak broadly about the plant’s safety history during a teleconference for reporters this past week.

“We don’t have a perfect record, we understand that. We strive to get better with every turn and we’ll continue to do so,” Arkema President and CEO Rich Rowe said. “Through how we handle experience and matters like this, the perception of the community will only get better.”

A 1.5-mile evacuation zone around the plant remained in effect Sunday. The fire marshal's office said state, federal and local agencies will continue to monitor the air, but noted that no data to date indicates an impact to air quality around the plant. 

A “serious” violation is one of the most severe violations cited by OSHA. It is defined as a situation when “the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.”

The serious violations come with a $12,675 fine per violation. However, because the violations were due to a failure to abate, they carried a $12,000 fine per day.  

According to OSHA’s inspection detail, the initial fine for the 10 violations was $107,918 -- a figure ultimately lowered to $91,724. The feds said the company reached an informal settlement.

Some members of the community told Fox News they were frustrated the generators failed and wondered how difficult it would have been to raise them above flood waters. Still, another member of the community, who works at a different chemical plant, said he never had any problems with Arkema in the past.

“We’ve been in the community for a long time. We try to build relationships with members of that community so that there’s a strong relationship that hopefully over time builds trust,” Rowe said.

He argued in the teleconference that the plant's safety is better than it used to be.

“I think the performance of the plant from a safety perspective has certainly improved. We’re open, we’re transparent,” said Rowe. “When we have audits from regulatory authorities, we deal with the issues that are raised.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ray Bogan is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in El Paso, Texas. Follow him on twitter: @RayBogan