Friday, August 10, 2018

Houston-area DA charges CEO of Arkema and plant manager for release of fumes/fire during Hurricane Harvey

Via Chemical and Engineering News, an article detailing charges against Arkema for the fires at an organic peroxide plant during Hurricane Harvey (article by Randy Lee Loftus): 
A grand jury in Houston indicted Arkema and two of its executives Friday on criminal charges that they “recklessly” failed to prevent fires and releases from a chemical plant near Houston last year during catastrophic flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey. 
Reactive organic peroxides decomposed and caught fire after floodwaters knocked out power and disabled refrigeration at Arkema’s Crosby, Texas, plant. The chemicals must be kept cool to remain stable. 
In addition to the company, the indictment names Richard Rowe, CEO of Arkema’s North America operations, as well as plant manager Leslie Comardelle. If convicted, Arkema could face $1 million in fines and the executives could face five years in prison. 
“Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, whose office sought the indictment, said in a statement. “Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema."...
From the press release from the Harris County DA:
The indictment charges they all had a role in “recklessly” releasing chemicals into the air, placing residents and first responders at risk of serious bodily injury. The charge carries penalties of up to five years in prison for the persons and up to a $1 million fine for the corporation... 
...Chemicals had to be kept frozen to avoid bursting into flames, but temperatures rose after floodwaters knocked out the plant’s power. As a result, the chemicals exploded, causing a fire that burned for day and releasing the cloud. 
Prosecutors allege the disaster could and should have been prevented.
I'm a little stumped as to how they plan to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, but there you are. Via the Houston Chronicle, the actual charges:
And the grand jury charged Arkema, Rowe and Comardelle with reckless emission of an air contaminant under the Texas Water Code. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison for the individuals and a fine of up to $1 million for the corporation.
Plant manager's a tough position in Houston if this becomes a regular thing... 

5 comments:

  1. "recklessly"

    This seems like a tough sell. If you actually read the CSB report, you find out that there were multiple layers of protection for keeping these chemicals refrigerated. Unfortunately, a lot of things break when your plant is under 10 feet of water.

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    1. It's the same as Fukushima. Who could have possibly imagined losing both utility power and backup power at the same time?!??! (in a country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis).

      "What happens if there is a major flood, including our plant, that knocks out utility power?" should be right at the top of your FMEA.


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  2. There are plenty of cases where negligent executives deserve to go to prison, but this one struck me as bad luck rather than corporate greed. Arkema is one of the most safety-obsessed companies in the industry.

    I hope this sticks a bullet in the idea that Texas is business-friendly. I worked for a company that fell for their act and built a plant in Houston. They might as well have built the damn thing in San Francisco with all the regulatory nightmares and delays caused by overzealous Harris County officials.

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    1. Business-friendliness in Texas depends on where your plant is situated and whom you know - that ammonium nitrate warehouse in West, TX that blew up 5 years ago didn't even have sprinklers, and the owner was a local.

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  3. Good thing the EPA isn't getting rid of changes to the Risk Management Plan Rule meant to make disaster planning more rigorous.
    https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-administrator-pruitt-signs-proposed-risk-management-program-reconsideration-rule

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