First responders put their lives on the line every day to protect public safety and to provide assistance to those in need. In some cases, however, these dedicated individuals may not receive the information they need to protect themselves in hazardous situations. An October 7, 2015, flash fire and explosion at Schutz Container Systems resulted in injuries to two La Porte firefighters when they breathed in fumes at the scene. An employee was also injured during the Pasadena chemical plant accident; all three were hospitalized. To make matters worse, company officials could not identify the chemicals to which these injured individuals had been exposed, making it far more difficult to treat them at the scene or in the hospital setting. Violations of Federal Regulations According to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) passed in 1986, companies that manufacture or handle potentially hazardous chemical compounds are required to maintain comprehensive records of their inventories and storage methods. This information is needed to allow first responders to develop appropriate emergency plans if an accident does occur at these facilities. In the state of Texas, required EPCRA filings are managed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under the Tier II Chemical Reporting Program. These programs are designed to serve as a centralized clearinghouse for inventory reports and to distribute the information to the public safety officials and departments in the relevant areas. Schutz Container Systems was apparently not in compliance with EPCRA requirements at the time of the accident; as a result, no information was available regarding the chemicals to which first responders and workers were exposed. A History of Neglect This is not the first time that Schutz Container Systems has attracted negative attention from federal agencies. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Schutz on two occasions for failure to provide proper safety training and equipment and for failure to prepare machinery in the approved manner before performing maintenance. Schutz Container Systems was also reported to the Environmental Protection Agency on September 29, 2015, regarding allegations that some of its containers were leaking and releasing unidentified chemicals into water in the area of its Pasadena plant. These accusations are currently under investigation by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Ongoing Problems Throughout the Industry The fire at Schutz Container Systems is not an isolated chemical industry incident in Texas:
- Four workers were sent to the hospital after a fire broke out at the SunEdison plant in Pasadena on October 2, 2015. The investigation is still ongoing regarding this serious accident.
- On November 15, 2014, four workers lost their lives when almost 12 tons of methyl mercaptan was released into a work area at the La Porte DuPont manufacturing plant. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has completed an interim investigation that mentions serious failures in DuPont’s safety plan.
The toxic gases released when these accidents occur can cause long-term problems for other workers and for residents in the communities surrounding these plants. Legal Help for Those Who Need It Most After a serious Houston chemical plant accident, workers and others who have been injured may face extended recovery periods and long-term health risks. Working with a lawyer who specializes in these types of cases can often provide added support during negotiations with company attorneys, insurance adjusters and other parties. These legal professionals can even the playing field to ensure that victims of these accidents receive the compensation to which they are rightfully entitled for their injuries and losses. If you have been injured or have lost a loved one due to the negligence of a chemical or petrochemical company, retaining the services of an experienced Houston industrial accident lawyer can provide the support you need to achieve the highest possible court award or out-of-court settlement. This can help you and your family manage the ongoing costs of medical care and lost wages while allowing you to hold these companies financially accountable for their lack of care for workers and for public safety.