Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today sued Arkema, Inc., whose Crosby plant released toxic substances into the air when chemicals stored at the site burned during flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Ryan is asking a state district court to hold the company legally responsible for violations of Texas environmental laws and to recover the County’s costs for responding to the week-long incident. Dozens of first responders were tied up at the scene for days as organic peroxides ignited when the company’s back-up refrigeration units failed during the days following the storm.
“This was a very dangerous situation,” County Attorney Ryan said. “Arkema must take responsibility for its inability to ensure the safety of the people of the Crosby community and those who protect them.”
The chemicals started burning at the plant at 18000 Crosby Eastgate Road on August 31 when flooded transformers, back-up generators and refrigerated trucks failed to keep the volatile chemicals cool enough to prevent combustion. Residents and businesses within a one and a half mile radius of the site were evacuated for several days. Ultimately accelerants had to be used in a “controlled burn” to avoid an uncontrolled spontaneous ignition of the remaining material. A number of first responders became ill from the chemical smoke, suffering nausea, vomiting and difficulty breathing, while keeping residents clear of the evacuation zone.
County Attorney Ryan charges that the emissions from these fires violated the Texas Clean Air Act. In addition, the suit charges the company with allowing waste from its treatment plant to spill onto the facility and into an adjacent waterway, a violation of the Texas Water Code. The lawsuit seeks financial penalties for these violations of state law.
“We will seek court ordered changes that will guard against a similar disaster in the future,” County Attorney Ryan said. His office will ask the court to require the company to upgrade its emergency response plans, construct hardened storage areas and establish a community notification system to alert residents of future dangers caused by the plant.
After the incident at Arkema, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board Wednesday warned the chemical industry nationwide to re-think and update their emergency response plans. The Board is investigating the Arkema fires.
Click here to read the petition.