Hurricane Harvey

First responders sue chemical plant owners for failing to warn of dangers from fire

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A group of seven first responders have filed a lawsuit against the owner of the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, for alleged negligence and failure to warn about the dangers of fumes from explosions and fires that erupted after Hurricane Harvey.

The lawsuit, seeking at least $1 million in damages, says first responders who were stationed at the perimeter of a 1.5-mile evacuation zone around the Arkema facility vomited and gasped for air after the blasts on Aug. 31, report the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, the Houston Chronicle, Courthouse News Service and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.). Medical personnel who tried to help were also overwhelmed by the fumes, according to the Sept. 7 lawsuit, filed in Harris County, Texas.

The suit alleges first responders relied on representations that the chemicals were not harmful and “suffered serious bodily injuries as a result.” The suit also accuses the company of negligence in its storage of chemicals and preparations for an extreme flood.

The chemicals began to explode after Hurricane Harvey damaged the plant’s backup generators that cooled the chemicals to keep them from downgrading.

Judge Daryl Moore granted a temporary restraining order on Thursday that ordered the company to preserve possible evidence, including emails, text messages, test results and video.

Law firms filing the suit are Spurlock & Associates and Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz. Lawyer Mo Aziz told the Houston Chronicle a second suit would likely be filed on behalf of homeowners who were evacuated while the company ignited chemicals that were possibly degrading.

Arkema said in a statement that it would “vigorously defend a lawsuit that we believe is gravely mistaken.”

“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,” the company said. ”To the contrary, we pleaded with the public, for their own safety, to respect the 1.5-mile evacuation zone imposed by the unified command well prior to any fire.”

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