There is a lot of activity surrounding the activity at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. The plant caught fire and experienced ta chemical explosion in the wake of flooding and power outages brought on by Hurricane Harvey. First, an inquiry was opened by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into whether Arkema followed federal safety regulations. Those regulations are designed to protect workers and the public from hazards brought on by flooding. In addition, several first responders who showed up to fight the first fires at the chemical manufacturing plant have filed suit against the company. The basis for the complaint was their claim that they were not warned of the “toxic fumes” they were subjected to. They also describe “severe bodily injuries” in their lawsuit. A second lawsuit is planned, as well, involving nearby homeowners.
Could Arkema Do More to Prevent the Chemical Explosion?
The EPA revealed last week that they sent a request for information to Arkema under the Clean Air Act about whether or not the company had complied with the risk management plan they had previously filed with the agency. Depending on how the company responds and the information the EPA obtains, the agency can issue administrative, civil or criminal citations against Arkema for the chemical explosion and they also can assess financial penalties against the company. According to the EPA letter, which was issued on Sept. 7, Arkema, a multinational company based in France, was ordered to respond to a number of questions about their handling of chemicals at the plant.
Most of the materials stored at the plant are known as organic peroxides, which are combustible if they are not kept refrigerated. The EPA has asked Arkema to disclose how much of these chemical materials are kept at the plant, in addition to disclosing exactly which measures were taken in advance of the storm to guard against flooding and the possible loss of electricity.
As a result of power outages caused by Hurricane Harvey, several containers of the chemicals burst into flame on Aug. 31 when cooling systems designed to keep the materials stable shut off. First responders had been manning the perimeter of the 1.5-mile evacuation zone around the plant, and when the initial fires started, they showed up to fight them and apparently suffered serious injuries when they were exposed to the chemicals.
Increased Scrutiny of Crosby Plant
According to a press release issued by Arkema, the company insisted its employees “did everything they could to protect the public” from the dangerous situation that led to the chemical explosion. In addition to the EPA, the federal Chemical Safety Board also has initiated an investigation of the Crosby plant. They intend to closely examine its risk management plans, which are required to be filed with the EPA at least every four years. For its part, Arkema claims its risk management plan includes policies and procedures for floods and hurricanes, as well as power failure and loss of cooling, but there are reports that contingency plans filed with the EPA failed to address those concerns.
Arkema did warn officials in Crosby and the surrounding area that the flooded plant was subject to fires and chemical explosions before the first explosion, which occurred at 2 a.m. local time Aug. 31. They also noted that the company had evacuated all workers from the plant and that authorities had evacuated an area of 1.5 miles surrounding the plant. Therefore, when the plant exploded after flooding from Hurricane Harvey and the loss of power to their refrigeration unit, they had already managed to take as many as possible out of harm’s way.
At this point, Arkema faces a high level of scrutiny. In addition, the fires and explosions have also led to criticism of Texas and federal officials. They have also led to questions about EPA’s efforts to roll back regulations aimed at toughening safety requirements for companies storing large amounts of dangerous chemicals. These types of regulations became exceptionally important after the devastating explosions at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas in April 2013. One rule that may have applied to this situation would have required all chemical plants to disclose the types and the quantities of chemicals they store. That rule already has been delayed until 2019, so as to allow the EPA to consider industry concerns.
First Responders Injured
According to reports from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, on the morning of Aug. 31, at least 15 deputies were transported to local hospitals due to the chemical explosion and they were released later the same day. Despite this, Arkema officials described the smoke as a “non-toxic irritant,” while Harris County officials compared the smoke to the type that comes from a barbecue pit or campfire. The company has been criticized for its refusal to disclose some chemical safety documents, but the company claims it is an attempt to “balance the public’s right to know with the public’s right to be secure.”
The lawsuit, which seeks more than $1 million in damages, claims that Arkema officials repeatedly denied that the chemicals in question were harmful or toxic in any way. The pending second lawsuit, involving nearby homeowners, is likely to come after chemical testing is completed in the area surrounding the plant. That suit will contend that homeowners were evacuated for about a week while Arkema purposely ignited thousands of pounds of degrading organic peroxides.
It’s impossible to know the toxicity of these chemicals without thorough testing. Whether the exposure is short-term or long-term, any exposure to harmful chemicals has the potential to lead to lingering health effects or even disability, that can often require months or even years of treatment and physical rehabilitation and therapy. It’s not possible to know whether it is the case this time, but too often, exposure to dangerous chemicals comes because the company’s owners place their profits ahead of public and worker safety. Who knows what the long term effects of these chemical exposures and these explosions may have on the workers at the plant or the surrounding community.
Experienced Oil & Gas Injury Lawyer
The Texas Toxic Chemical Injury Lawyer at Hill Law Firm has represented many people who have suffered the debilitating health effects of exposure to dangerous chemicals, including chemical explosions, whether on the job or on the surrounding community. Whether you love in Crosby and worry about the health effects of this particular explosion or you or a loved one has suffered an injury or has died as a result of long-term exposure to dangerous chemicals, call the Texas Toxic Chemical Exposure Injury Attorneys at Hill Law Firm as soon as possible for a free consultation.