Two employees of 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 failure to implement disaster protocols 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 facility was storing a type of organic peroxide used to produce plastics. If allowed to warm, these peroxides decompose and eventually ignite. After transformers and power generators were disabled by flood waters, the peroxides reached their critical temperature, causing multiple fires. As over 350,000 pounds of organic peroxide burned, it generated large plumes of toxic smoke. Ultimately, 21 people were hospitalized for toxic inhalation and over 200 people were forced to evacuate the area.
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 a flood. The company claims it took every step possible but could not stop record amounts of flooding from destroying the plant.
It’s been over 13 years since a chemical company faced criminal charges for negligence; 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 injured in the disaster. When the 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 found BP guilty of 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 $50 million. With the Arkema Crosby plant incident, another corporation is being held accountable for its negligent actions.
Arkema Officials Knew of Danger Before Harvey
Harvey’s destruction was devastating, but the damage was at least partially preventable at the Crosby Arkema plant. A report released last May by 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. 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, their failure to properly prepare 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 release hazardous fumes. A 1.5-mile radius evacuation was put in effect by officials in response.
Accountability Matters When Health Is at Risk
At Arnold & Itkin, we believe that a company is at fault when disaster happens due to their lack of action. Safety regulations and maintenance plans exist to prevent accidents such as this from occurring. When a company puts profits above safety, our team believe in making them offer compensation for their willful neglect.
In the case of the Arkema plant fire, investigations are slowly revealing the company's carelessness. Though they attempted to contain their mistake, this environmental disaster should not have happened in the first place. As residents watched their homes and businesses get swallowed by Harvey’s floodwaters, they also had to deal with the toxic plumes emanating from the Arkema plant. We hope that the investigation produces the evidence needed to properly hold this company accountable.
If you or someone you know were put at risk or danger by the fire at the Arkema plant, call our Hurricane Harvey attorneys. 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