By August 29, 2017, Hurricane Harvey had dumped so much rain in and around Harris County that workers were forced to abandon the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas. Harris County Sheriff's officers were asked to monitor the 1.5 mile perimeter Arkema Inc. had arbitrarily set up around the facility.
Local residents living near the plant were ordered out under mandatory evacuation.
Over the next two days, without any emergency backup refrigeration system in place, the chemicals inside the plant became increasingly unstable. Finally in the early hours of August 31, 2017, the Arkema plant was rocked by a series of explosions.
Police Officers Overcome
Clouds of toxic fumes were spewed into the air.
Police officers who had been parked in their vehicles along the perimeter began vomiting and passed out.
Emergency medical technicians sent to the scene to help also began vomiting and passing out from the toxic fumes even before they could get out of their vehicles, according to the statement of claim.
"The scene was chaos," says the state of claim filed in Texas court.
"Most of my clients are first responders who were guarding the perimeter when they were overcome by toxic fumes from the plant," says attorney Muhammad Aziz from the Houston, Texas law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrells, Agosto & Aziz. "They have lung damage and various lung injuries. Some are fine, but some are still having severe problems, so there is a whole range of injuries among these first responders."
"The perimeter was not broad enough and these guys were out there without any type of respiratory equipment. Everyone had immediate symptoms. They were vomiting, they collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital," says Aziz.
According to the state of claim filed in Texas court, Arkema was well aware of the hazard of leaving the chemical plant unattended and without a backup refrigeration system that could be used in the event of a catastrophic event like Hurricane Harvey.
In fact, government authorities had cited the plant for that issue as early as 2006.
In addition, Arkema knew that first responders would be working in the area around the plant after it had been abandoned. According to the documents Arkema still failed to warn authorities of the potential danger even after the first plant explosions on August 29, 2017.
"The first responders had no breathing apparatus and the company never told the Fire Marshall there was a potential for problems. The officers are just sitting in their cars and they are suddenly overcome by this cloud.
"Some of these guys are young and they may have been permanently damaged," says Aziz.
Meanwhile, impatient residents began returning to their homes near the plant after the initial explosions. There were, however, further explosions. And on September 3, the company initiated an additional explosion, sending plumes of ash and toxic fumes into the air that then rained down on nearby homes and on to people in the area.
Arkema has yet to publicly identify the type of chemicals that were inside its Crosby, Texas plant.
Aziz's firm represents 19 different individuals in the lawsuit. Ten are police officers and emergency medical personnel. The others are residents who lived in the area.
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The suit asks for damages in excess of $1 million for plaintiffs' health care costs past and future, loss of earnings, damage to property, medical monitoring, disfigurement and other injuries.
Grounds include negligence and gross negligence.
Gross negligence includes but is not limited to:
- failure to develop a proper backup refrigeration system
- failure to have adequate procedures in place to protect the community in the event of a catastrophic event
- failure to provide the first responders and the public with accurate information about the chemicals inside the plan
- failure to notify first responders and the public of the risk of explosion