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Houston chemical plant faces criminal investigation after series of explosions

02 October 2017

Harris County district attorney’s office confirmed it had opened a criminal investigation into the actions of French chemical group Arkema before the series of explosions and fires at its Crosby plant in the Houston suburbs after the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey. The company is already facing a number of lawsuits over the effects of explosions of volatile chemicals at the plant.

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According to the Houston Chronicle, District Attorney Kim Ogg said on September 29: "Companies should be on notice that we care when they pollute our air, our water, our environment. We are looking into exactly what happened at the plant. We are gathering facts and we will apply the law. Arkema is under criminal investigation."

The Crosby facility was inundated with six feet of water that wiped out its power and generators, leading to failure that caused volatile organic peroxides to explode several times over the course of a week.

Harris County Pollution Control Services Department had already found serious violations of the Clean Air Act by Arkema, resulting in an earlier lawsuit being filed.

Arkema is also facing a suit from first responders, who were left vomiting and gasping for breath after being overcome by fumes. The suit, which seeks at least $1 million, accuses Arkema of lacking proper procedures for keeping the chemicals cooled and failing to prepare for a major flood.

The French-owned company has declined to comment on the lawsuits, but has repeatedly said the explosions did not pose a safety concern if residents stayed out of the 1.5-mile evacuation area established prior to the first explosion.

"We reject any suggestion that we failed to warn of the danger of breathing the smoke from the fires at our site, or that we ever misled anyone," the company said in a statement at the time.

Arkema has also declined multiple requests for detailed breakdowns of the chemicals being held at its sites, and has refused to specify where at the site even more potentially dangerous chemicals are located.

CEO Richard Rowe previously defended the decision as balancing "the public's right to know and the public's right to be secure," and company spokespeople have falsely claimed that such requests would have to be directed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

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