Judge Acquits Arkema, CEO and Former Plant Manager From 2017 Chemical Fire Charges

A Texas judge acquitted the U.S. arm of French chemical maker Arkema SA and a top executive of criminal recklessness stemming from a 2017 blaze that injured 21 people, according to Reuters. The verdict, rendered Thursday, ends all charges against Arkema and its managers.

The company’s Crosby, Texas, plant became waterlogged and lost power needed to keep organic peroxide chemicals from igniting after Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on the area. The untended chemicals caught fire and burned for days, injuring 21 safety workers and forcing residents from their homes.

Arkema Inc. and former plant manager Leslie Comardelle were found not guilty in a directed verdict by Judge Belinda Hill on Thursday. On Wednesday, Judge Hill dismissed an endangerment charge against Arkema’s U.S. CEO, Richard Rowe, saying prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to support the charge.

Last month, prosecutors separately dropped a criminal assault charge against Arkema and former logistics executive Michael Keough over smoke inhalation injuries suffered by public safety workers assigned to guard the plant.

“It is beyond unfortunate that these ill-founded charges created years of undue hardship” for the executives, Arkema spokeswoman Janet Smith said in a statement. She said the company had urged emergency workers to wear respirators if they might be exposed to the smoke.

The company had maintained the charges were an attempt to criminalize a natural disaster.

“Today’s ruling by a judge doesn’t change the fact that dangerous chemicals on Arkema property ignited and were belched in a cloud of toxic smoke over the surrounding communities, and a first responder there protecting people is now on a lung-transplant list,” said Dane Schiller, a spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

The trial resumed last month after being suspended in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the trial, Judge Hill sanctioned prosecutors for withholding evidence beneficial to the defense.

 

Source: Thomsen Reuters

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