HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Opening statements were given on Thursday in the unusual criminal trial against Arkema chemical plant and its executives after chemicals were said to have combusted during Hurricane Harvey.
The French chemical company Arkema, its former Vice President of logistics Michael Keogh, CEO Richard Rowe, and Plant Manager Leslie Comardelle are all facing criminal charges.
Prosecutors accused Keogh of putting Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies in harms way by telling local emergency officials that Arkema had real-time data monitoring of the tanks that 350,000 gallons of organic peroxide, which they knew would explode when they reached a certain temperature.
"Chemical products, specifically peroxides, were exposed to rising water during Hurricane Harvey," said special prosecutor Mike Doyle during opening statements. "The choice these managers made, as Arkema always did, is to keep the product on the ground, in the threat of weather, every single time."
A spokesperson from Arkema allegedly told emergency personnel the company was keeping track of its chemicals with off-site, real-time monitoring and would notify emergency personnel before they would be at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals from the plant.
Prosecutors say the company resorted to asking its own workers to move the dangerous chemicals by hand, in barrels, as the waters rose around them. The chemical release and fires shut down a mile and a half around the plant for days. At least 21 first responders and other officials were injured after they inhaled some of the fumes while arriving at the plant.
Attorneys for Arkema argued the company had a full hurricane plan in place, but nobody could have predicted the severity of Hurricane Harvey.I think it's a little unusual for putting plant management on trial for incidents, but I suspect the fact that first responders were those that were sickened by the peroxide fumes (what were those?) drove at least some of the decisions of the Harris County DA.