First responders slammed by (preventable) wall of chemicals at Houston plant damaged by Harvey

  • Published on September 9th, 2017

Fire fighters and police officers who responded to the explosion and fire at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas after Hurricane Harvey swept through and left devastating floods in its wake have filed suit, claiming that they suffered “severe bodily injuries.”

arkema chemical plant explosion after hurricane harveyBy Steve Hanley 

The lawsuit claims that Arkema officials repeatedly held press conferences in which they denied the chemicals were harmful to the public or first responders. “Plaintiffs relied on these representations and suffered serious bodily harm as a result,” the lawsuit alleges.

The chemicals stored at the plant needed to be kept cool. The hurricane cut off electricity from the grid, at which point, emergency generators cut in. But the generators were soon knocked out of commission by the rising flood waters. Gee, who could have predicted that flooding might occur in and around Houston, Texas, huh?

Without cooling, the chemicals became volatile. Two explosions occurred on the morning of August 31, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky as 2 tons of highly unstable chemicals used to make plastics and paint erupted in flames.

Federal Emergency Management Agency director Brock Long called the plume of smoke“incredibly dangerous.” But Bob Royall of the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office made it sound like this was just regular smoke. “You don’t want to stand in smoke, do you? The sheriff says it’s like a camp fire.”

That’s where things got murky. Richard Rennard, an Arkema executive, stammered out this tortured statement: “I mean this — the smoke is noxious. I don’t — its toxicity is — yeah, it’s a relative thing.” Way to clear things up, Richard. Thanks. Suffice to say, 15 sheriff’s deputies and firemen were sent to the hospital that morning after they fell ill in the middle of the road, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Ironically, the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, a federal agency that is responsible for investigating just such events as the explosion and fire at Arkema Chemical, will be eliminated by the Idiot In The Oval, who also has recently ordered a rollback of rules that would require all federal infrastructure projects to make provision for wind and water damage as global warming leads to more powerful storms and greater risk of flooding.

But since global warming is a hoax, why saddle developers with the burden of preparing for things that will never happen? Much better to save the taxpayers money by slashing senseless bureaucratic red tape. If you are a delusional sociopath, that makes perfect sense. Of course, initial estimates are that the cleanup after Harvey will cost $180 billion. Expect that number to go higher as the flood waters recede and the true extent of the damage is revealed.

Rules that went into affect after 9/11, designed to keep information about potentially explosive chemicals out of public view, also provide cover for the chemical companies when they want to shield their activities from official oversight. Arkema Inc. CEO Richard Rowe, head of North American operations for the French owned company, described the secrecy as an attempt “to balance the public’s right to know with the public’s right to be secure.”

Flooding is a common occurrence in the Houston area but Arkema failed to adequately prepare for backup refrigeration in the event of a power outage, according to the lawsuit, which seeks damages of $1 million. Arkema has yet to respond to the litigation.

(Originally appeared at our sister-site, Cleantechnica.)

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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.