Houston lawyers Misty Hataway-Cone and Kimberley Spurlock are suing the Arkema company for gross negligence, accusing the Crosby, Texas, plant of ignoring "the foreseeable consequences of failing to prepare" for the hurricane despite advanced warning of the storm’s destructive potential and past experiences with flooding. The plant lost its ability to cool heat-sensitive compounds contained in trailers filled with dangerous chemical compounds when it lost electricity, leaving the trailers susceptible to explosion.
A number of first responders were hospitalized on August 31 after being exposed to chemical fumes when the first of the plant’s nine trailers exploded. Officials said the explosion created a plume of smoke that reached 40 feet in the air.
Hathway-Cone describes a range of conditions the responders experienced, from "doubled over and vomiting, to the other end of it, chemical bronchitis," according to Click 2 Houston. She added, "It’s not something that should happen when you go to work to protect your community."
In a Thursday press release, lawyers said, "Although the explosions had occurred, no one from Arkema alerted the first responders who were manning the perimeter of the arbitrary mandatory evacuation area … Immediately upon being exposed to the fumes from the explosions, and one by one, the police officers and first responders began to fall ill in the middle of the road."
"The scene was nothing less than chaos," the suit claims, according to the Houston Chronicle. "Police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe."
Arkema released a statement expressing sympathy for the responders while denying that they were negligent. "We deeply regret that anyone suffered harm as a result of the havoc wreaked on our plant by Hurricane Harvey, particularly first responders who worked with us side-by-side to keep the public safe," the company wrote. "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." They argue to the contrary, that they "pleaded with the public to heed the 1.5 mile evacuation zone."