Texas Rescue Workers Sue Arkema
Seven rescue workers in Texas are suing Arkema for $1 million, alleging the French chemical producer was unprepared for the flooding that engulfed its organic peroxides plant at Crosby, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and also failed to warn them of the dangers presented by burning chemicals.
After the flooding and several minor explosions, which it called “pops,” the company deliberately set fire to nine trailers at the plant, allowing the volatile chemicals to burn out in a controlled manner. During the control burn, emergency workers protecting the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) evacuation zone surrounding the stricken site were exposed to emissions from thick black smoke.
“One by one,” the complaint says, “police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road. Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.” Authorities said 15 sheriff's deputies were briefly hospitalized.
Because of the “misrepresentations” of Arkema executives, the plaintiffs said they fear they may suffer “potential unknown future health issues. The suit takes issue with the fact that, at a news conference in Texas, company executives declined to call the fumes toxic – saying that toxicity is relative – describing them instead as noxious.
While apologizing for any harm resulting from the “havoc wreaked on our plant by Hurricane Harvey,” Arkema called the lawsuit “gravely mistaken, rejecting “any suggestion that we failed to warn of the danger of breathing the smoke from the fires at our site, or that we ever misled anyone.”
The company explained that moving the chemicals as the storm was approaching the Houston area was too risky. Once the plant’s refrigeration systems and backups failed, it said the compounds began to decompose and overheat and subsequently ignited.
In an initial post-incident analysis, chemical experts told US media that the risk management program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not monitor a number of substances that may not be highly toxic but are volatile and likely to catch fire.
In response to criticism of the EPA’s delay in implementing an Obama-era risk management plan that would have required listing chemicals stored at a facility, administrator Scott Pruitt said there were good reasons to delay the regulation, as a published list of substances could aid terrorists.
Pruitt said, however, that the EPA is examining whether Arkema’s risk management plan required it to have redundant power supplies that would have prevented the incidents. This, he suggested, could lead to further investigation or enforcement action by the agency.