French Chemical Company Indicted in Texas

Harris County Grand Jury Indicts Arkema for Crosby Plant Explosion

On Friday August 3, a Harris County grand jury indicted French chemical company Arkema, and 2 officials, for a “reckless” chemical release that resulted in a chemical plant explosion during Hurricane Harvey. After sustaining almost seven-feet of floodwater, the plant lost power did not have the capability to keep dangerous chemicals at the appropriate temperature. According to a work log kept by a worker at the Crosby plant, “This effort of our ride out crew has been nothing short of heroic.” Despite recorded attempts by the employees to stuff pallets of organic peroxides into the working trailers, all three backup plans Arkema had in place eventually failed. Harris County Emergency Responders eventually ignited a controlled burn of the remaining six trailers, almost two days after the first trailer combusted.

According to a statement released by the Harris County Attorney’s Office, “The company, CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle put residents and first responders at risk when the Crosby plant caught fire as Harvey dumped record rainfall on the Houston area, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s office.”

Why was Arkema Indicted for the Chemical Explosion?

The Harris County grand jury indicted Arkema, its CEO and the Crosby plant manager because they allowed a “toxic cloud” of chemicals to be released into the air, placing residents and first responders at risk of serious bodily injury. Prosecutors say the explosion could have been prevented while Arkema officials called the criminal charges “astonishing.”

“Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. “Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema.” According to an investigation conducted by the Houston Chronicle, a federal Chemical Safety Board reported that Arkema was notified, by their insurer at the time, of the flood risks at the Crosby plant almost a year before Harvey made landfall. While Arkema did have a disaster plan in place, it was not prepared for the almost seven feet of flooding the plant undertook.

Personal Injury Lawsuit Against Arkema

Other lawsuits have been filed against Arkema due to the injuries sustained by first responders who inhaled toxic fumes that traveled well beyond the 1.5-mile evacuation radius. The first explosion occurred on August 31, 2018, sending toxic fumes into the air. According to the petition filed by the plaintiffs’ attorney, “Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosion, and one by one, the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road.” When medical assistance was called, the emergency medical personnel became overcome by the fumes before exiting the vehicle. The petition also states, “Although the explosion has occurred, no one from Arkema alerted the first responders who were manning the perimeter of the arbitrary mandatory evacuation area.”

What is Next for the Arkema and its Officials?

“Indictments against corporations are rare,” District Attorney Kim Ogg said. “Those who poison our environment will be prosecuted when the evidence justifies it.” The Harris County grand jury charged Arkema, Rowe and Comardelle with reckless emission of an air contaminant under the Texas Water Code. This is the first time that a chemical company has faced serious criminal charges since the 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City. The charges against Arkema and its two officials could result in a five-year prison sentence for Rowe and Comardelle, as well as a $1 million fine for Arkema.

Check out our web page on industrial plant accidents to learn more about these tragic events and how they may be caused.

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Priyanka Kasnavia

Priyanka Kasnavia has been writing blogs for Simmons and Fletcher, P.C., for the past two years. She is a rising 2L at the University of Houston Law Center and her expertise centers on research, search engine optimization, and content creation.