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Texas chemical company and executives acquitted of charges stemming from 2017 Hurricane Harvey incident

02 October 2020

A judge acquitted the chemical company Arkema and one of its top executives on October 1, a verdict which ends all charges that were brought against the company and three of its managers. Judge Belinda Hill’s decision to find Arkema and former plant manager Leslie Comardelle not guilty followed her decision to dismiss another charge on September 30 against Arkema’s US Chief Executive Richard Rowe.

Image: US Chemical Safety Board
Image: US Chemical Safety Board

Arkema and three senior employees were charged with “recklessly” releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals during Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 after the company’s plant in Crosby, Texas became flooded. The incident led to the forced evacuation of 200 nearby residents and 21 people, including first responders, were treated for injuries, mainly from the inhalation of toxic chemicals.
Former plant manager Leslie Comardelle was acquitted of criminal recklessness a day after charges against Arkema’s US Chief Executive Richard Rowe were dismissed by Judge Hill, who said prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to support the charge.
Criminal assault charges were also dropped in early September against former logistics executive Michael Keough in relation to public safety workers inhaling toxic chemicals. In a statement, Arkema said, “We’re pleased to see the end of this trial, which should never have taken place at all. The facts of this case did not warrant any indictments, and we do not believe any indictment would have been granted but for the false information presented to the Grand Jury by prosecutors.
“This trial sought to criminalize the impact of a natural disaster that Harris County itself was not prepared for. While Arkema was found to have been prepared for a 500-year flood, our Crosby plant had a 5,000-20,000 year rainfall and the resulting flooding rose 30 inches above the 500-year flood level. Our plant employees went to heroic lengths to protect the public, and when flooding overwhelmed their every effort, we proactively notified emergency responders and the public, days before the first fire started.”

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