In Harvey's WakeMore in this series
Eleven plaintiffs and a new defendant were added Wednesday to a lawsuit against Arkema Inc., an international chemical company whose plant near Houston spewed clouds of smoke from a series of chemical fires earlier this month after it was inundated by six feet of floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey.
The updated lawsuit alleges that Arkema and the new defendant, Bureau Veritas — an air quality monitoring company that Arkema contracted to conduct testing in the vicinity of the plant — failed to properly advise first responders and neighbors about the dangers of fumes from the fires, which spewed black smoke high above the plant in Crosby.
The lawsuit, originally filed Sept. 7 with seven first responders listed as plaintiffs, has since swelled to include six additional first responders as well as a slate of area homeowners who claim that in addition to property damage related to the fires, they suffered “upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, itchy, burning eyes, tight, burning throats and the like — illnesses and injuries that did not exist prior to the explosions and fires at the Arkema facility and illnesses resulting from and exacerbated by the explosions and fire at the Arkema facility.”
Medical personnel and police officers called to the first fire in the early hours of Aug. 31 “began to fall ill in the middle of the road,” and were “doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe,” the lawsuit claims.
Plaintiffs are seeking more than $1 million in damages, the suit says.
Bureau Veritas declined to comment Wednesday afternoon. Arkema said earlier this month that it would “vigorously defend a lawsuit that we believe is gravely mistaken.”
Officials have compared smoke from the thousands of pounds of burning organic peroxides to what emerges from a campfire or barbecue and maintained that it was a “non-toxic irritant.” The Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this month that “surface level water runoff results were less than the screening levels that would warrant further investigation” and air testing “found no exceedances” of required levels.
But the lawsuit criticizes company executives for “repeatedly [denying] that the chemicals were toxic or harmful in any manner ... Plaintiffs relied upon these representations and suffered serious bodily injuries as a result,” the suit says.
The fires started in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, whose floodwaters took out the plant’s primary and backup sources of power. Without refrigeration, organic peroxides in the plant began to degrade, culminating in a series of explosions beginning Aug. 31 and continuing over the next several days.
Residents within a 1.5 mile radius of the plant were evacuated for a week while the chemicals burned. When they returned to their homes, they were advised to wear protective clothing and drink bottled water.