The former owner of a Texas chemical and environmental services company will spend a year in federal prison for crimes that led to the death of a company employee. According to the Department of Justice, Matthew Lawrence Bowman, 41, of Houston has pled guilty to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and making a false statement. Bowman, who also must pay $5,000 in fines, was sentenced in October.
Stringent safety, health and environmental laws intended to protect employees and the public from hazardous chemicals have been enacted by federal and state governments. Bowman's case further illustrates that noncompliance with these laws can mean not only fines, but criminal prosecution and prison terms. General criminal laws also have been invoked to prosecute companies and individuals who have caused harm through exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Bowman admitted to not properly protecting employees of his now-defunct company, Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services (PACES), from exposure to the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide, a leading cause of sudden death in the workplace. Federal laws enforcement authorities said Bowman’s criminal behavior led to the death of truck driver Joey Sutter in December 2008. In addition, Bowman admitted to ordering employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal that his company was the source of wastewater containing the toxic gas, following a disposal facility’s moratorium on all shipments from PACES after it received loads containing 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 and to prevent the kind of tragedies that occurred in this case,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher said.
The agencies involved in the case were the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, District Attorney’s offices in Travis and Harris counties, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Houston and Port Arthur police and fire departments.
Companies involved with dangerous substances should consider engaging experienced counsel and safety professionals to ensure they are in compliance with the relevant laws and to minimize the risk of liability.