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Third Texas chemical company senior manager charged over Hurricane Harvey incident

12 April 2019

A grand jury has indicted another senior employee of Arkema, almost two years after two other senior employees were charged with “recklessly” releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals during Hurricane Harvey. Michael Keough, vice president of logistics, was indicted on felony assault charges due to “misrepresentations” he made following flooding in August 2017 at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, which caused fires and toxic chemical releases on the site.

Still from animation of Arkema incident - Image: CSB
Still from animation of Arkema incident - Image: CSB

Following the indictment, announced on April 10, local media quoted Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg as saying that Keough had misled authorities and put first responders in harm’s way by claiming the plant had off-site, real-time data monitoring that enabled early warning of potential exposure to toxic chemicals.

According to Ogg, evidence suggested that, despite its reassurances to emergency personnel, Arkema had no monitoring in place in many of the chemical tanks.

The incident led to the forced evacuation of 200 residents nearby and 21 people, including first responders, were treated for injuries, mainly from the inhalation of toxic chemicals.

During a press conference, Ogg said that company employees are rarely charged over environmental violations, but that civil regulations had proven insufficient to protect the public. She said that corporations are too often allowed to simply pay a fine, rather than being made to change their behaviour.

In a statement on behalf of Arkema, Attorney Rusty Hardin called the indictments an “outrageous attempt to criminalise a natural disaster” and “a political prosecution in search of a theory”. Similarly, in a statement on behalf of Mike Keough, Attorney Dan Cogdell claimed what happened was not a crime and that Keough provided safety information hours before the first fires even started which, if followed, would have increased safety for the first responders.

Keough is the third employee of the US subsidiary of the French chemicals giant to be indicted over the incident, following charges against chief executive, Richard Rowe, and the manager of the Crosby plant, Leslie Comardelle, in August 2018. They were each charged with reckless emission of air contaminants and endangerment of persons under the Texas Water Code which carry a penalty of up to five years in prison for each person and up to a $1 million fine for Arkema.

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