Residents of Crosby, Texas have filed a federal lawsuit against the chemical manufacturer, Arkema, after finding and experiencing traces of toxic chemicals. According to NPR, the lawsuit charges Arkema with failing to notify residents of Crosby of the danger posed by the chemical fires.
The fires were caused at the plant site as the result of flooding by Hurricane Harvey. NPR reports that homes were affected by the plant’s chemicals miles away from the evacuation site.
Among the affected homeowners is Shannan Wheeler, 52, a petrochemical facility engineer. Wheeler’s home is located more than three miles away from the chemical plant.
“We actually heard and felt the boom out here,” Wheeler said to ABC. “[The smoke] didn’t rise, it simply spread like a rolling wave. Right over our house.”
Arkema stores and making organic peroxides, which are used for plastic manufacturing. Temperatures affect these chemicals drastically. Unlike semi-synthetic lubricants, which contain less than 30% of oil and change in viscosity depending on the temperature, the organic peroxides made by Arkema need to be refrigerated to keep them from igniting.
Up to 40% of American workers report their job as being very stressful. Arkema workers were certainly among this percentage during Hurricane Harvey. Arkema workers had to move the chemicals from the plant into refrigerated trailers. However, once the plant workers were evacuated due to rising flood waters, the trailers also flooded.
The rising temperatures caused the chemicals to catch fire. As a result, an emergency evacuation zone was put into effect within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant.
Residents living miles away could see the smoke over the course of five days and began to worry about the toxins in the air. Richard Rennard, an Arkema spokesperson and executive, reportedthat the smoke was noxious. “If you breathe in the smoke,” he said, “it’s going to irritate your lungs.” Despite these health effects, neither local emergency officials nor those at Arkema gave precautions to those living outside the evacuation zone.
Beginning on Thursday, August 31, Wheeler began noticing a putrid smell to the air and fog in the surrounding area. The morning of Friday, September 1, his family found black splotches of oil in their flower beds. On Sunday, September 3, emergency officials and Arkema chose to ignite the remaining containers of chemicals as a way to eliminate any possible hazards.
“All of the product has been successfully and safely burned,” said Rennard during a press conference. “We have seen no evidence of any issues with [air quality monitoring] results.”
One week later, while mowing his lawn, Wheeler began to experience welts along his hands and wrists. Wheeler’s doctor diagnosed the welts as dermatitis caused by chemical exposure.
Wheeler is now just one of 14 other plaintiffs who suffered from injuries and respiratory problems as a possible result of the fires. One plaintiff reports suffering from lesions and burns on his legs resembling poison ivy, which can be found in every state but Alaska and Hawaii, after walking through floodwaters.
In a separate, but related lawsuit, a group of first responders also experienced health problems as a supposed result of the Arkema fires. The lawsuit claims police officers were unable to breathe and were vomiting as a result of toxic fumes.
What’s more is that up to 17% of everything printed in an office environment is considered waste. Compared to this percentage, approximately 65,000 pounds of chemicals and 17,000 pounds of other matter were reported to have been released into the air from the Arkema fires during Hurricane Harvey.
A criminal investigation is currently underway by the Harris County District Attorney. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency are also investigating the Arkema fires.