HOUSTON - Arkema North America, the company’s CEO and the manager of the company’s Crosby plant were indicted Friday on a charge related to the chemical release and explosions near Crosby that happened during Hurricane Harvey.
Harris County prosecutors said the company, CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle are named in the indictment that accuses them of recklessly releasing chemicals into the air, which placed residents and emergency workers in danger.
“Companies don’t make decisions, people do,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a written statement about the indictment. “Responsibility for pursuing profit over the health of innocent people rests with the leadership of Arkema.”
The charge carries penalties of up to five years in prison for the people named in the indictment and up to $1 million in fines for the company, prosecutors said.
Investigators said that floodwaters overtook the east Harris County chemical plant and knocked out generators meant to keep certain chemicals cold. Without proper refrigeration, the chemicals combusted, resulting in explosions and fires that lasted for four days.
Prosecutors believe the events could have been prevented.
“As the hurricane approached, Arkema was more concerned about production and profit than people,” said Alexander Forrest, the chief of the Environmental Crimes Division at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
“It is hard to believe anyone would seek to criminalize the way in which one facility was impacted by such a crushing natural disaster,” said Janet Smith, a spokesman for Arkema.
An investigation by the federal Chemical Safety Board found that company officials had a plan in place but did not prepare for the catastrophic nature of the flooding that happened during Harvey.
Rusty Hardin, who represents Arkema in the case, responded as well. In a lengthy statement Hardin wrote the following:
“It would set an ominous precedent if a company could be held criminally liable for impact suffered as a result of the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey that no one, including Harris County itself, was prepared for. In any event, there’s no foundation for a criminal case against Arkema.“
District Attorney Kim Ogg admits, “Indictments against corporations are rare,” in reference to the grand jury true bill findings.
“Those who poison our environment will be prosecuted when the evidence justifies it,” Ogg added.
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