The recent Arkema chemical plant explosions in Crosby, Texas added to the chaos and stress in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Area residents were evacuated from their homes as dangerous chemicals burned. As plant management stood by and determined that the best course of action was to let the materials burn out, information about violations, neglect, and known safety hazards began to spread. Several victims have already filed lawsuits as a result of this incident.
Chemical Fire Harm to First Responders and the Community
This particular crisis is being billed as a near-miss since residents were safely moved out of the danger zone and no one was killed in the explosions or fires. Several emergency workers have been described in the press as having been “treated for smoke inhalation.” However, in legal documents, first responders have described being overcome by the chemical fumes almost immediately, doubling over, vomiting, and gasping for breath. They have also asserted that debris from the explosions fell outside the established perimeter, on people, homes, yards, and animals.
At this point, it is impossible to determine how widespread or serious the damages caused by the chemical plant explosion, or what medical problems may yet emerge from the chemical exposure. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 1278 households within five miles of the plant.
Worse, the safety hazards that made the chemical plant, employees, area residents, and rescue workers vulnerable remain at Arkema and in many other locations.
Chemical Plant Safety Hazards
Water caused the Arkema explosions—specifically, flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. Flooding shut down electrical power, leaving the plant without refrigeration. Chemicals began to heat the up and degrade, ultimately leading to the explosion. Arkema saw the explosion coming and provided advance notice to the community, but without power could do nothing to avert the disaster.
Of course, the chemical plant isn’t responsible for the hurricane. However, major news outlets are reporting that the company identified the risks posed by hurricanes and flooding as early as 2009, just months after Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston. In addition, the plant has been cited for numerous safety violations, including 10 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) violations earlier this year, all classified as “serious.”
Liability for Chemical Plant Explosions
A chemical plant, like most businesses and individuals, is legally responsible for damages caused through its negligence. In a case like the chemical plant explosion in Crosby, negligence could be alleged for a variety of reasons, including:
- A claim that the company improperly stored or handled dangerous chemicals
- A claim that the company failed to create adequate safety procedures
- A claim that safety procedures were negligently ignored
- A claim that the company failed to adequately inform those at risk, including employees, emergency personnel, and members of the community
- A claim that the company failed to adequately prepare for an event it knew could reasonably occur
Although the precise duties owed and the legal remedies available may vary somewhat, a company whose negligence was the cause of a chemical plant explosion and resulting injuries and damages may be liable to many different parties, including:
- Employees and contractors at the facility who were injured or made sick in the explosion, in the fire, or through chemical exposure
- Emergency and medical personnel at the scene who suffered from chemical exposure or sustained other injuries
- Community members who were injured or made sick through chemical exposure
- Community members who suffered property damage or other economic losses as a result of the explosion and resulting evacuation.
If you sustained injuries as a result of a chemical plant explosion, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. However, litigating this type of claim is complicated and requires considerable resources. Call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., for a free consultation. (713) 932-0777.