The owner of a former environmental company in Texas is facing 13 federal criminal charges after two workers died in four months while helping him transport chemicals illegally.
Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) and its former president, Matthew L. Bowman, have been charged with conspiracy to illegally transport hazardous materials, causing both deaths. The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Beaumont, TX, federal prosecutors announced Thursday (July 19).
U.S. Chemical Safety Board
|Hydrogen sulfide exposure is a leading cause of death in the workplace. A 2002 sewer leak at a Georgia-Pacific mill in Alabama killed two people and injured eight.|
The employees, who both worked for PACES as truck drivers, died four months apart from hydrogen sulfide vapors at the company’s plant.
The 13-count indictment describes a scheme in which hazardous materials were transported illegally with false documents and without placards, and where workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases.
Joey W. Sutter, 36, of Arlington, TX, died Dec. 18, 2008, by asphyxiation and poisoning due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation, according to an autopsy report.
Charles B. Sittig, 48, of Eunice, LA, died April 14, 2009, of a heart attack due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation, according to Bowman’s indictment.
Hydrogen sulfide is an acute toxic substance that is the leading cause of sudden death in the workplace, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Although known for its “rotten egg” odor, hydrogen sulfide is odorless and can kill almost instantaneously at high concentrations.
According to the indictment, Bowman’s duties included approving and directing PACES production operations, the disposal of hydrogen sulfide wastewater, employee safety precautions, directing the transportation of PACES wastewater, and determining what safety equipment could be purchased or maintained.
Paper Mill Supplier
Bowman was president and owner of PACES, in Port Arthur, TX, and CES Environmental Services (CES), in Houston. PACES, which operated from about November 2008 to November 2010, produced and sold caustic materials to paper mills.
The production of caustic materials involved hydrogen sulfide, which federal transportation safety laws classify as a poisonous gas. OSHA requires employers to implement engineering and safety controls to prevent employees from exposure above harmful limits.
Both facilities have had numerous run-ins with local, state and federal authorities over a variety of business practices and problems, ranging from odors to explosions to deaths.
In the current case, Bowman and his companies are charged with conspiracy to violate the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (HMTUSA) and two counts of failure to use appropriate controls to protect employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act.
They are also charged with transportation of hazardous materials without placards and with false documents; violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act; and making false statements, according to Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno and John M. Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas.
A third employee perished in July 2009 at CES’ Houston location, where workers clean tanker trucks. In that case, authorities said, Bruce Clayton Howard, 45, was standing on top of an empty 18-wheeler tanker truck, filling it with water while the vehicle contained a small amount of an alcohol-based material.
The material “flashed” as Howard stood in front of the opening or leaned over the side. Howard fell from a height of 20 to 30 feet and suffered burns over up to 90 percent of his body.
Prison Terms and Fines
The conspiracy and substantive counts of the current indictment each carry a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The corporation faces a maximum fine of $500,000. Both PACES and CES have filed for bankruptcy.
The federal criminal investigation is in addition to a suit by the state’s attorney general against the companies for continually violating state environmental laws.
Other investigations are also currently underway by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, and several other state and federal agencies.
Bowman has not yet appeared before a judge and could not be reached for comment.