Houston — Three Arkema SA executives have been cleared of criminal charges over a series of explosions at the company's Crosby, Texas, site in August 2017, that led to a major evacuation operation in the region.
State District Judge Belinda Hill cleared Arkema North America CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle of playing a role in "recklessly" releasing chemicals into the air, putting residents and first responders at risk.
In addition, assault charges against former logistics executive Michael Keough and Arkema Inc. were dismissed mid-trial.
In a statement, Arkema Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa. said: "It is beyond unfortunate that these ill-founded charges created years of undue hardship for Rich Rowe, Leslie Comardelle and Mike Keough, and for their families. The most positive aspect of the trial's conclusion is that it allows these good people to get on with their lives."
The company said that what happened at the plant was a natural disaster, not a crime.
"This trial sought to criminalize the impact of a natural disaster that Harris County itself was not prepared for," the company statement said.
"We communicated extensively with the Unified Command that coordinated emergency response, and explicitly warned that emergency responders should wear respirators if they might be exposed to smoke from the fires," Arkema said in its statement. "We cannot fathom why they did not do so, but it certainly was not for lack of warning," it added.
Arkema Inc. is a unit of Colombes, France-based Arkema SA.
The explosions at the Crosby plant took place on Aug. 31, 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, after power-cuts led to the loss of refrigeration for some organic peroxides at the site, which exploded due to high temperature.
The Crosby plant makes liquid organic peroxides that are used primarily in the production of polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC and acrylic resins, as well as polyester-reinforced fiberglass.