Seven first responders injured after explosions at the troubled Arkema chemical plant in Crosby are now suing the company for at least $1 million in damages.
On Thursday, barely a week after the first blast of decomposing chemicals rocked the small town, Houston lawyers Kimberley Spurlock and Misty Hataway-Cone launched a legal battle in Harris County court, accusing Arkema of gross negligence.
Despite past flooding events and advance notice of the impending destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Arkema “ignored the foreseeable consequences of failing to prepare,” the suit claims, leaving trailers of volatile chemicals susceptible to explosion after flooding knocked out the electricity and ability to cool the heat-sensitive compounds.
The first of nine trailers of organic peroxides exploded early on the morning of Aug. 31, landing a number of first responders in the hospital following exposure to fumes from the chemicals, which ignited and left a 40-foot plume of black smoke that officials later compared to a campfire.
“Although the explosions had occurred, no one from Arkema alerted the first responders who were manning the perimeter of the arbitrary mandatory evacuation area,” lawyers said Thursday in a press release. “Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosions, and one by one, the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road.”
Emergency medical personnel arrived on scene, and were overcome by fumes before even exiting their vehicles, lawyers allege.
“The scene was nothing less than chaos,” the lawsuit claims. “Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.”
The seven first responders at the center of the new legal action were all on scene for “that chaos and those toxic fumes,” according to legal papers. Fifteen Harris County deputies and eight EMS personnel, including Crosby’s EMS chief, were hospitalized due to exposure to the fumes.
The legal claim specifically calls out company officials Richard Rowe and Richard Rennard for holding press conferences at which they “repeatedly denied that the chemicals were toxic or harmful in any manner,” the lawyers write. “Plaintiffs relied upon these representations and suffered serious bodily injury as a result.”
Twenty homeowners also asked to be added to the suit according to the lawyers. The Crosby residents claimed to have seen balls of tar fall in their yards and some claimed a tar-like substance covered their roofs after the explosions.
The suit also asks for a temporary restraining preventing Arkema from destroying photos, documents and records relating to the chemical behind the fire.
The Chemical Safety Board announced on Aug. 31 it would be investigating the Arkema explosion. In a statement from board chair Vanessa Allen Sutherland, one aspect of that investigation would be the implications for emergency response efforts.
An Arkema spokeswoman Thursday afternoon promised the company would release a statement later in the day.