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Third Arkema Plant Employee Indicted with Criminal Charges

Last year, Arnold & Itkin covered the criminal charges against employees of the 2017 explosion at the Arkema chemical plant. Two employees, CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle, were accused of placing residents and first responders at risk. Prosecutors asserted that the Arkema employees failed to prepare the plant for flood waters, causing it to explode during Hurricane Harvey. Now, an additional employee is facing criminal charges for the plant’s explosion.

The Arkema Crosby plant stored organic peroxide typically used in the production of plastic. These peroxides ignite if allowed to warm up. Floodwaters caused the plant’s generators to die, triggering the failure of refrigeration units used to keep the peroxide stable. After 350,000+ pounds of toxic material ignited, it released plumes of smoke into the atmosphere, forcing over 200 people to evacuate the area. The smoke caused the hospitalization of 21 people for toxic inhalation.

Who Is Facing Charges?

The senior employee facing charges is Michael Keough, vice president of logistics for Arkema in North America. Keough faces felony assault charges because of his actions before the fire at the chemical plant. His charges relate to how he and other company officials handled the emergency at the plant during Hurricane Harvey. Prosecutors are accusing Keough of telling officials that Arkema was monitoring the situation, even though the company did not have enough data needed to do so.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg revealed that this misinformation caused two sheriff deputies to drive directly into a toxic area. Ogg also asserts that the deputies unknowingly exposed others to toxic materials after leaving the contaminated area. Even though employees rarely receive criminal charges for their employer's environmental violations, Ogg said that civil regulations have failed to protect the public.

"Too often corporations are simply allowed to pay fines and that doesn't change corporate behavior," Ogg said.