Friday, September 25, 2020

Arkema trial restarts in Houston

Via Reuters, the Arkema trial continues apace: 

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A criminal case against the U.S. arm of a French chemical maker accused of releasing pollution that injured 21 people resumed on Thursday under a cloud as a judge ruled out a motion to dismiss the case.

Prosecutors unintentionally misled a grand jury by claiming another firm, unlike Arkema, moved its hazardous chemicals when presented with the threat of flooding, Texas Judge Belinda Hill said in court on Thursday, allowing the trial to proceed. Defense attorneys had argued the grand jury testimony was part of a pattern of misconduct that tainted the case.

The company’s Crosby, Texas, plant became waterlogged and lost power needed to cool organic peroxide chemicals after Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the area in 2017. The untended chemicals caught fire and burned for days, injuring 21 safety workers and forcing residents from their homes.

Arkema and its U.S. chief executive, Richard Rowe, and former plant manager Leslie Comardelle face felony charges for the pollution released by the chemical blaze. The company faces up to a $1 million fine and the executives could receive up to five years in prison...

Via Insurance Journal, I note that the prosecution's more creative charge against Arkema has been dismissed: 

Arkema, a subsidiary of a French chemical manufacturer, and its now retired vice president of logistics, Michael Keough, each faced a felony assault charge related to two injured deputies for allegedly misrepresenting the danger that the unstable chemicals at the plant posed to the community.

...“Prosecutors always have a duty to seek justice; in this case, a prosecutor felt that there was enough evidence for a criminal charge, but that he could not prove that charge beyond a reasonable doubt at this time, so he requested it be dismissed,” Dane Schiller, a spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

I think everyone who works in industrial chemistry knows that, if you hurt someone in the course of making chemicals, you will likely face legal trouble of some sort, most likely civil in nature. The Arkema trial is a good reminder that, if the situation is egregious/unique enough and the prosecutor is determined enough, you can face criminal charges as well. File that in the back of your mind, fellow chemical manufacturers...

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