Texas Jury Indicts Arkema on Crosby Explosion
A jury in Harris County, Texas, has issued a series of indictments to the US subsidiary of French chemical producer Arkema, its CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle concerning the explosion and fires at the Crosby plant during Hurricane Harvey in August last year.
An unprecedented amount of rain fell at the plant during the storm, causing equipment to flood and fail. This resulted in the organic peroxides stored at the facility overheating and igniting.
The charges claim that Rowe and Comardelle played a role in “recklessly” releasing chemicals in the air, putting residents and first responders at risk. If found guilty, the pair could face up to five years in prison, while the Arkema offshoot could be fined up to $1 million.
The French group said the criminal charges were “astonishing” and “outrageous,” especially as the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) had concluded after an eight-month investigation that the company behaved responsibly.
“It overcame the preparedness efforts of millions of individuals and many, many companies and government agencies. It is hard to believe that anyone would seek to criminalize the way in which one facility was impacted by such a crushing natural disaster,” said Arkema, adding that its employees performed “heroically” before and during Hurricane Harvey.
According to the company’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, there has never been an indictment like this in Texas or any other state. “It would set an ominous precedent if a company could be held criminally liable for impact suffered as a result of the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey that no one, including Harris County itself, was prepared for. In any event, there’s no foundation for a criminal case against Arkema,” Hardin said.
Since the storm, several lawsuits have been filed against the company, by rescue workers, neighbors and homeowners, as well as the county governments of Harris and Liberty, alleging that Arkema was negligent and not adequately prepared for the flooding.
The CSB said in its report that although Arkema had a hurricane preparedness plan, the company relied on its employees’ judgement to determine the level of risk.