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Executives Indicted in Hurricane Harvey Plant Explosion

Two employees of the French chemical company Arkema were recently indicted by a Harris County grand jury. Arkema’s North American operations CEO Richard Rowe and Crosby plant manager Leslie Comardelle are accused of putting residents and first responders at risk after they failed to take the proper precautions against fires at the company’s Crosby plant. Prosecutors are blaming the company’s negligence in implementing disaster safety for the toxic fire that erupted at the plant.

The Arkema Plant Fire

When Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented amounts of rain to Crosby, the Arkema plant experienced severe flooding. The plant was storing a type of organic peroxide used to produce plastics. If allowed to warm these peroxides begin to decompose and eventually ignite into flames. After transformers and power generators were disabled by flood waters, the peroxides reached their critical temperature, causing multiple fires and eruptions. As over 350,000 pounds of organic peroxide burned, large plumes of toxic smoke plumes escaped the plant. Ultimately, 21 people were forced to go to hospitals for the treatment of toxic inhalation and over 200 people were forced to evacuate the area.

Reckless Behavior

The Harris County District Attorney’s office is accusing the CEO and plant manager of chasing profits over safety. In a comment about the case, environmental crimes division chief Alexander Forrest stated that, “As the fire approached, Arkema was more concerned about production and profit than people.” Claims against the company assert that it was aware of the plant’s insufficient ability to survive flood. The company claims it took every step possible but could not stop record amounts of flooding from overtaking the plant.

It’s been over 13 years since a chemical company faced criminal charges for negligence – we know because we were there the last time it happened.

The 2005 BP Texas City Refinery Explosion

When the BP Texas City refinery exploded in 2005, Arnold & Itkin had the privilege of fighting for those who were placed in harm’s way. When this massive plant exploded, 15 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured. Our Texas refinery explosion attorneys were there to hold BP, owner of the refinery at the time, accountable for faulty equipment that caused the accident.

Our lawyers weren’t the only group to hold the energy company accountable – the government also identified BP’s neglect and sought retribution. After a comprehensive investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP a record $87 million. BP contested the fine and only paid an initial $50 million.  With the Arkema Crosby plant incident, another corporation is being held accountable for its negligent actions in the state of Texas.

Arkema Officials Knew of Danger Before Harvey

Harvey’s destruction was devastating but the damage did not have to reach the levels it did at the Crosby Arkema plant. A report was released last May by a federal agency. In the report, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) reported that Arkema was warned of the inadequacies of their safety equipment and did not take the proper steps to fortify the plant from future floods. When Harvey hit land, it was just a matter of time until the plant erupted in flames.

Though the company sent out its own crew to try and stabilize the situation, a failure to properly prepare ensured failure and forced the workers to evacuate without preventing the disaster. As the plant’s inadequate safety systems began to fail, the crew could only watch helplessly as fires began to throw hazardous smoke into the air. A 1.5-mile radius evacuation was placed in effect by officials in response to the danger.

Accountability Matters When Health is at Risk

At Arnold & Itkin we believe that a company is at fault when disaster happens at a plant that they own. Safety regulations and maintenance plans exist to prevent accidents such as this from occurring. When a company places profits above safety, our Crosby, Texas lawyers believe in making them provide compensation for their willful neglect.

In the case of the Arkema plant fire, investigations are slowly pulling back the carelessness exhibited by the company. Though they attempted to correct their mistake by sending crews, this environmental disaster should not have happened in the first place. As residents were forced to watch their homes and businesses get swallowed by Harvey’s flood waters, they also had to deal with the toxic smoke plumes emanating from the Arkema plant. It’s simple: the last thing the citizens of Crosby deserved during a natural disaster was a concurrent man-made one. We hope that the investigation is able to produce the evidence needed to properly hold this company accountable.

If you or someone you know were placed at risk or danger by the fire at the Arkema plant, call our Crosby industrial accident attorneys today. We have helped victims of Hurricane Harvey recover losses they experienced during the disaster. Call us today for a free consultation at (888) 400-2101