Arkema trial begins

The flames that evacuated over 200 neighbors after they had flooded.
The flames that evacuated over 200 neighbors after they had flooded.

CROSBY – Three men and the company they work for begin trial next Monday on criminal charges for explosions, fumes and fires related to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

After the deluge of over 40 inches, the flood killed power to the plant 175 tons of chemicals that become volatile if they are not congealed within their chilly temperature range were taken to a location away from other chemicals and allowed to blaze and explode.

A grand jury concluded Arkema was responsible for the release of a toxic cloud over the Crosby community, prosecutors announced last year.

Arkema North America, its CEO Richard Rowe, and plant manager Leslie Comardelle, are named in the indictment. Mike Keough was charged with felony assault for “causing bodily injury” to two sheriff’s deputies because the company withheld information from first responders that was vital to their safety and the safety of others. Keough is now retired.

The company lawyers, Arkema North America’s, are arguing that the series of incidents were an “act of God” but local authorities say it is time that chemical companies were held accountable for decisions that endanger the public and public servants.

“Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg after the hearing. “Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema.”

“Indictments against corporations are rare,” Ogg said. “Those who poison our environment will be prosecuted when the evidence justifies it.”

The potential penalties of the charges are up to five years in prison for the men and up to a $1 million fine for the corporation.

Prosecutors allege the disaster could and should have been prevented with forethought and proper engineering.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Houston Police Department’s Environmental Investigations Unit, and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office Environmental Crimes Division contributed to the investigation.

“As the hurricane approached, Arkema was more concerned about production and profit than people,” said Alexander Forrest, chief of the Environmental Crimes Division at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

Arkema North America is a French-owned company, with yearly sales of about $10 billion and nearly 20,000 employees around the world. Arkema’s plant is located at 18,000 Crosby Eastgate Road.