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Lawsuit filed over Crosby plant explosion

This ought to be fun to watch.

Seven first responders who were exposed to fumes from a chemical fire last week at a Crosby, Texas, manufacturing plant have filed suit against the plant’s owner, alleging that the company’s negligence caused them “severe bodily injuries.”

The plaintiffs, who include police officers and medical personnel, say in the lawsuit that when they were dispatched to the Harvey-flooded Arkema chemical plant in the early hours of Aug. 31, they were not alerted that more than one explosion had already taken place. Exposed to strong fumes, they “began to fall ill in the middle of the road,” and “police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.” The suit also states that medical personnel “became overwhelmed, and they began to vomit and gasp for air.”

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, 15 sheriff’s deputies were sent to the hospital and released later on the morning of Aug. 31. Company officials described that smoke as “a non-toxic irritant,” and Harris County officials compared it to what escapes a campfire or barbecue pit.

The plaintiffs claim that the company never warned them of “toxic fumes” present on the site. Company officials, as well as state and federal government agencies, have maintained over the last week that they have not found “toxic concentration levels in areas away from the evacuated facility.” The company has been criticized for its refusal to disclose certain chemical safety documents. Arkema CEO Rich Rowe has described this as an attempt “to balance the public’s right to know with the public’s right to be secure.”

I haven’t followed this particular aspect of the Harvey disaster and aftermath. There are some links to other Trib stories at the end of this one, or just Google “Arkema explosion” to get caught up. The crux of the issue is one part lax oversight, by both Arkema and the state, and one part lack of disclosure about what hazards were present. If you’re thinking we’ve been down this road before, you’re right. I am mostly interested to see if anything has changed since the last major plant explosion. I don’t expect it – let’s not be naive – but we do live in a different world now, so you never know. ThinkProgress and the Lone Star Project have more.

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5 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Normally, I’d say this was crap, but the homeowners have a legitimate point. Had they been able to stay, they might have been able to save more of their belongings from the ravages of flood waters.

    The company definitely should be on the hook for people with documented hotel bills, the problem is, every person who left to stay with friends or relatives is going to want to get reimbursed for something they shelled out no money for, and it will be impossible to say what got destroyed that otherwise would have been saved, had these folks not been ordered to evacuate because of the problem at the plant. People with one story homes probably couldn’t have saved much, unless they put it in a trailer and hauled it somewhere (unlikely, since it flooded everywhere).

    In short, the company will probably be paying for damages they legitimately owe, and quite a bit they don’t actually owe. Tough, because their emergency plan seems sound to me, and I don’t think the explosions actually endangered anyone living off site. If people came home to broken windows or debris from the plant in their yards or impaled in their roofs, we would have heard about it. The evacuation order was overly cautious, and most probably unnecessary. Even the guy on the news whose property backs up to the plant didn’t mention any broken windows or flying debris, and he was livid while being interviewed. I’m sure he would have mentioned it.

    Some blame probably goes to the county officials that ordered an evacuation that didn’t need to happen, although the county should be judgement proof.

  2. C.L. says:

    First… WTF ? You’re a first responder called to a fire at a flooded chemical plant in the heart of Chemicalville and you don’t prepare for the possibility of something foul being in the air ?

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    @C.L.:

    First, everyone admits that the first responders have no permanent injuries. Second, they should be covered by workman’s compensation, and third, I doubt any of them lost any wages. I’m sure they got paid for their regular shift while they were getting checked out and then released at the ER, and they aren’t going to get bills in the mail for the ER visits.

    Their only claim would be for “pain and suffering,” since they didn’t have any financial losses.

    But hey, everyone else in Houston has their hand out right now looking for a payday, so why not them, too?

  4. Joel says:

    “The crux of the issue is one part lax oversight, by both Arkema and the state, and one part lack of disclosure about what hazards were present. ”

    lax oversight doesn’t begin to describe. *refusal* to discharge the governmental duty to keep the public safe, while instead favoring corporate interests, is more like it.

    just calling our government officials incompetent misses the point. they are willfully bad people.

  5. Joel says:

    ps – bill daniels is a world-class jerk.