First responders sue over Arkema fumes

Several fires and subsequent explosions sent black smoke and fumes into the sky near Crosby.
Several fires and subsequent explosions sent black smoke and fumes into the sky near Crosby.

CROSBY – Seven first responders and as many as 20 homeowners have filed suit over fumes from the Arkema plant explosions on Sept. 7.

The suits allege gross negligence and demand at least $1 million in damages in Harris County District Court.

Fifteen Harris County deputies and eight ambulance crews including the Medical Service Director were hospitalized on Sept. 3 after the last of refrigerated trailers exploded at the Arkema plant.

Reports indicate that ambulance personnel flung themselves onto their own ambulance gurneys and deputies vomited on the spot but most refused to be taken by ambulance to the hospitals because they would not vacate their vehicles due to munitions aboard their patrol units and elected to drive themselves to the hospitals.

Deputies and EMS personnel stand ready on US90 the night of September 7th, outside the 1-1/2 mile safe zone.

The suit alleges that Arkema had days of warning to be prepared for the disaster. It was over 500,000 gallons or organic peroxides within the nine refrigeration trailers that without the refrigeration capacity were expected to explode said the company. On August 31, the first of a series of explosions of the trailers dispersed throughout the plant’s property went off.

Although the Harris County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security insisted there were no concentrated ammonia compounds on the site, worry continued for most people in surrounding communities over air quality and the nature and size of explosions.

Sizes of the explosions were consistent with expectations raised by the company.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission for Environmental Quality collected 6 surface water runoff samples on Sept. 1 indicating quantities less than would warrant further investigation after the first explosion. The federal agency sent aerial surveillance aircraft to test resulting smoke from the Arkema fires and “found no exceedance of the Texas comparison values.” From August 30 to Sept. 7 no exceedances of the short-term Air Monitoring Comparison Values was found by the TCEQ.

One must assume then that when the tires on the trailers caught fire it must have produced a non-toxic smoke!?

The EPA ordered Arkema to provide a detailed timeline of events and to respond within 10 days to questions about the handling of organic peroxides, the amount of chemicals, and measures taken in advance to guard against flooding and loss of electricity. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has initiated an investigation at the Arkema Plant.

Experts responded to inquires that the plant had generators and backup generators at the location to provide refrigeration of the chemicals but both went under water due to the unprecedented flood. The diluting of the chemicals was ruled out due to containers being by law so small that the task becomes impossible to perform in time once refrigeration has stopped.

Arkema responded that the suits are mistaken and that the company never failed to warn people nor misled anyone.

A judge granted the plaintiffs a temporary restraining order and injunction to keep Arkema from destroying or moving evidence. The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office and Crosby Volunteer Fire Department are looking into the fire at Arkema.