Chemical company indicted over Hurricane Harvey explosions

Chemical company indicted over Hurricane Harvey explosions

A French-owned chemical company and two executives were indicted Friday over allegations surrounding explosions at a plant near Houston after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

A grand jury handed down the indictments for Arkema North America CEO Richard Rowe and Crosby, Texas, plant manager Leslie Comardelle, said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in a statement.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey shut off the power that helped keep chemicals cool at the Crosby plant. That caused them to overheat and explode, sending a chemical cloud into the air. No one was killed in the explosion, but some first responders sued over their injuries.

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The indictment charges that the company and executives “recklessly” had a role in the explosion, placing first responders and nearby residents in danger. Each executive faces up to five years in prison, and the company faces up to a $1 million fine.

“Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” Ogg said, noting that indictments against corporations are “rare.”

“Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema,” she said.

Arkema responded by calling the charges “astonishing,” and arguing that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board exonerated the company in its investigation into the incident.

“With these findings, it is outrageous to assert that Arkema or any of its employees behaved criminally,” the company said in a statement. “No one needs a reminder that Hurricane Harvey devastated a wide region. It overcame the preparedness efforts of millions of individuals, and many, many companies and government agencies. It is hard to believe anyone would seek to criminalize the way in which one facility was impacted by such a crushing natural disaster.”