HOUSTON—Rubber chemical manufacturer Arkema Inc. has decried as "outrageous" the issuance of criminal charges against the company and two of its top executives in connection with fires at the firm's Crosby, Texas, plant in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
A Harris County, Texas, grand jury handed down indictments Aug. 3 against Arkema, Arkema CEO Richard Rowe and Crosby Plant Manager Leslie Comardelle, charging that the company and the executives played a role in "recklessly" causing the release of a "toxic cloud" of chemicals at Crosby in late August and early September of 2017.
"Companies don't make decisions, people do," said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in a news release about the indictment. "Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema."
If found guilty, Arkema could face a fine of up to $1 million, and Rowe and Comardelle each could face up to five years in prison.
Arkema already faces lawsuits from Harris and Liberty counties seeking permanent injunctions and civil penalties against the company related to the fires caused at Crosby by Hurricane Harvey.
At the Crosby plant, Arkema manufactures liquid organic peroxides used in the polymerization process. The plant lost power Aug. 28, 2017, during Hurricane Harvey, causing refrigerated trailers in which peroxides were stored to do likewise.
Multiple trailers caught fire and burned for several days. On Sept. 3, Arkema chose to conduct a controlled ignition of the six remaining trailers, rather than risk further damage by letting those trailers to catch fire as they may.
Local residents evacuated because of the Crosby fire returned home Sept. 4.
In the civil suit Harris County filed against Arkema in November 2017, the county accused the company of violating Texas water, health and safety, and administrative laws "by discharging from its facility at least one air contaminants (sic) in such concentration and/or such duration as to be injurious to human health, welfare, or property, or as to interfere with the normal use and enjoyment of property."