Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Homeowners Join Lawsuit Against Arkema

As Hurricane Harvey was wrecking havoc on Southeast Texas, the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby experienced a power loss after it was inundated floodwaters, triggering explosions and fires. Poisonous fumes allegedly spread over a several mile area surrounding the plant. Although Arkema officials maintained it was a non-toxic irritant, residents within a 1.5 mile radius were evacuated for a week. Upon returning, they were advised to wear protective clothing and drink bottled water.

First Responder Lawsuit Against Arkema

On September 7th, first responders filed a lawsuit suit claiming they were damaged from exposure to chemical fumes. The lawsuit claims medical personnel and police officers who were first called to the scene fell ill in the middle of the road, and were “doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.”

Now, eleven new plaintiffs have joined the suit, comprised of a group of homeowners as well as six additional first responders. A new defendant has also been named - Bureau Veritas, an air quality monitoring company contracted by Arkema to conduct testing in the vicinity of the plant. The updated suit claims Arkema and Bureau Veritas failed to properly advise first responders and the community about the dangers of fumes from the fires.

At the time, Arkema officials compared the smoke from the thousands of pounds of burning chemicals to campfire or barbeque emissions. In addition to fire-related property damage, the plaintiffs claim that they suffered a variety of ailments that did not exist before the explosions and fire at the Arkema facility. The plaintiffs are seeking more than one million dollars in damages.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency said air testing found no exceedances of required levels, the lawsuit criticizes company executives for failing to alert the public the public that the chemicals were toxic or harmful in any manner, and that the plaintiffs suffered serious bodily injuries as a result.

What caused the Arkema explosion?

The fires have been attributed to Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters that caused the plant’s primary and backup sources of power to fail. Organic peroxides stored at the facility required refrigeration to remain stable, and without cooling, the peroxides began to degrade, touching off a series of explosions that started August 31 and continuing over the next several days.

The Takeaway

While it is too soon to say whether the plaintiffs will prevail, or if Arkema and Bureau Veritas will seek to settle the suit, Harris County recently announced its intention to file a suit to recover costs it incurred in responding to the emergency. County officials allege that Arkema violated the Texas Clean Air Act, and lacked proper procedures that would have prevented or mitigated harm from the explosions and ongoing fire. Ultimately, chemical explosions and fires like the one at Arkema require the advice and counsel of experienced health, safety and environmental attorneys.


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