Seven first responders filed a lawsuit Thursday against Arkema, a chemical plant near Houston that exploded after Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters knocked out the plant’s power sources.
The suit, which also names three of the company’s executives, alleges the chemical plant did not adequately warn law enforcement or public health agencies of the imminent danger posed by the chemicals housed at the plant.
After Harvey travelled beyond Houston, residents began eyeing a new threat: the Arkema plant in Conroe, north of Houston.
As rumors of explosions and possible fires at the plant circled on social media, Rich Rowe, CEO of the North American branch of the company, admitted they had no way of preventing an explosion at the plant.
Residents near the plant were told to evacuate.
Despite admitting an explosion was imminent, the company continued to insist the chemicals housed at the plant were “noxious” but not toxic.
However, first responders — including law enforcement and firemen — who were on the scene when the explosion occurred, say they were sickened by the fumes. The event is described in the lawsuit:
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. Calls for medics were made, but still no one from Arkema warned of the toxic fumes in the air. Emergency medical personnel arrived on scene, and even before exiting their vehicle, they became overcome by the fumes as well. The scene was nothing less than chaos. Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe. Medical personnel, in their attempts to provide assistance to the officers, became overwhelmed and they too began to vomit and gasp for air.
The company’s lobby, American Chemical Council, is also partially responsible for the delay in enacting the laws that would have assisted the first responders in doing their jobs safely.
After a chemical plant explosion devastated the city of West, Texas in 2013, the Obama administration passed legislation to prevent similar tragedies. The law, which was set to go into effect in March 2017, would have required Arkema to better communicate and coordinate with first responders after Harvey.
When President Donald Trump took office, lobbying groups, including American Chemical Council, pressed Republican politicians to delay the law.
They were successful.
With the law now scheduled to go into effect in February 2019, Arkema officials were able to withhold information from first responders, according to the lawsuit.
First responders who were faced with Arkema’s fallout say their lives and health were endangered by the company’s failure to provide them with the information they needed to safely do their jobs. They believe the company was negligent.
Arkema denied the allegations in a statement provided to International Business Times:
We reject 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 statement explained. “To the contrary, we pleaded with the public, for their own safety, to respect the 1.5 mile evacuation zone imposed by the unified command well prior to any fire. We will vigorously defend a lawsuit that we believe is gravely mistaken.
The lawsuit seeks monetary relief of over $1 million.