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Port Arthur Chemical Facility Facing Federal Charges After Death of Two Employees

Posted By Arnold & Itkin LLP || 3-Aug-2012

The now defunct Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services has been named in a 13 count federal indictment after two facility truck drivers died within a four-month period. According to the indictment, the company illegally transported hazardous materials and failed to protect employees from exposure to toxic gases. It was these two practices that allegedly contributed to the deaths of the two employees. The plant was open from November 2008 to November 2010, and was involved in producing caustic materials for paper mills. Hydrogen sulfide was involved in the operational processes of the plant.

The two men killed at the plant were Joey Sutter and Charles Sittig. Mr. Sutter died of asphyxiation and poisoning from hydrogen sulfide inhalation in December of 2008; Mr. Sittig died of a heart attack caused by hydrogen sulfide inhalation in April 2009. Three months later, a third employee died at the beleaguered plant when an explosion and flash fire knocked Bruce Howard from the top of a tank he had been filling with water.

In response to Mr. Howard's death, company president and owner Matthew Lawrence Bowman remarked that Mr. Howard had disregarded safety rules, but his surviving relatives claimed he was improperly trained for his job. An investigation into the accident resulted in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fining the company $1.5 million.

Investigations into the plant's operations were begun in 2008 by the Texas Attorney General's Office with the aim of shutting the company down. An official indictment was handed down in April 2012, but was only unsealed on July 19. Among other charges, the indictment places responsibility on Bowman for approving and directing faulty production operations, the disposal of hydrogen sulfide wastewater and for implementing insufficient employee safety precautions. In some instances, Bowman even took on the task of personally investigating employee's work-related injuries. If he is convicted, Bowman could be sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The company could face fines of up to $500,000.

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