In what amounted to an eerie flashback, a ruptured water main that flooded Houston streets Thursday caused the latest delay in a criminal trial charging Arkema Inc. and three employees with criminally misrepresenting the danger presented by a Hurricane Harvey-related fire and chemical release.
Originally scheduled to begin Monday, the trial hit its first roadblock when Judge Belinda Hill issued a three-day continuance after ruling that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence from the defense prior to opening arguments.
The rupture of a 96-inch main providing water to 50% of Houston forced closure of the courthouse until Monday. Houston residents remain under a boil water notice until Saturday morning.
In August 2017, heavy flooding at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby caused the plant to lose power to its low temperature warehouses. Workers moved 350 pounds of volatile organic peroxides to refrigerated trailers. However, refrigeration in three of the trailers failed due to continued flooding, which ignited flames inside.
Smoke from the trailers sickened two Harris County sheriff’s deputies on duty enforcing a 1.5-mile radius around the plant. Ultimately, 21 people sought treatment for exposure to fumes from the fires.
Arkema CEO Richard Rowe and former plant manager Leslie Comardelle, charged with felony air pollution, face up to five years in prison. Retired vice president of logistics Michael Keough is charged with felony assault carrying a sentence of two to 10 years.
The charge of felony assault against Arkema carries a fine of up to $10,000.