The former president of a Texas company that produced and sold caustic materials to paper mills will go to prison in connection with the deaths of two employees who weren’t properly protected from hazardous chemicals.
Matthew Bowman of Houston, former head of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services (PACES), pleaded guilty to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act and making a false statement. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
Bowman admitted he didn’t properly protect PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, resulting in the deaths of truck driver Joey Sutter and Charles Sittig on Dec. 18, 2008 and April 14, 2009, respectively. Sittig died of a heart attack due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation. Sutter died by asphyxiation and poisoning due to hydrogen sulfide inhalation.
Workers at PACES were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases.
In addition, Bowman admitted directing employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal that wastewater was coming from PACES after a disposal facility stopped all shipments from the company because it had received a load containing hydrogen sulfide.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says hydrogen sulfide is an acute toxic substance that is the leading cause of sudden death in the workplace. Employers are required by OSHA to implement engineering and safety controls to prevent employees from exposure above harmful limits of hydrogen sulfide.
“The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who violate the laws enacted to ensure the safety of workers handling hazardous materials,” said Robert Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
Several agencies cooperated in the investigation of PACES, including the EPA, Department of Transportation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Houston Police Department, OSHA, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Port Arthur Police Department.
Bowman was also president and owner of CES Environmental Services in Houston. In 2008, another worker died at the Houston facility when an explosion and flash fire knocked him from the top of a tank he was filling with water. OSHA fined the company $1.5 million dollars for safety violations in that case. None of the indictments against Bowman involved CES.