Matthew Lawrence Bowman, the former president of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) finally had his (sentencing) day in court. Bowman pleaded guilty on May 9 to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). It is rare for individuals to be prosecuted and sentenced to violations of the OSH Act.
Bowman admitted to not properly protecting PACES employees from exposure to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas resulting in the death of truck driver Joey Sutter on Dec. 18, 2008. In addition, Bowman admitted to directing employees to falsify transportation documents to conceal that the wastewater was coming from PACES after a disposal facility put a moratorium on all wastewater shipments from PACES after received loads containing hydrogen sulfide. He was sentenced to serve 12 months in federal prison on Oct. 28 by U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone. Bowman was also ordered to pay fines in the amount of $5,000.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher called the sentence “a just punishment” for Bowman’s actions, which placed workers “at unacceptable risk and had fatal consequences.”
“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,” Dreher added.
John M. Bales, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, commented, “While Mr. Bowman is being held accountable for his criminal conduct, and that is appropriate, there is no amount of time in prison; no amount of criminal fine that can be levied that will compensate for the loss of life at PACES. We extend our deepest condolences and well wishes to the friends and family of Mr. Sutter, who died pitilessly and needlessly because of the criminally negligent actions of Matthew Bowman.”
According to information presented in court, Bowman was president and owner of PACES, located in Port Arthur, Texas, and CES Environmental Services (CES) located in Houston. PACES was in operation from November 2008 to November 2010, and was in the business of producing and selling caustic materials to paper mills. The production of caustic materials involved hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 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.
“When a worker loses his or her life on the job, it has a ripple effect on their families, friends, community and the workplace. Matt Bowman and PACES knowingly violated workplace safety standards that led to Joey Sutter's death,” said OSHA’s Deputy Regional Administrator Eric Harbin in Dallas. “OSHA standards are in place to protect workers and employers will be held accountable when they fail to follow these standards.”
Bowman was responsible for approving and directing PACES production operations, the disposal of hydrogen sulfide wastewater and ensuring implementation of employee safety precautions. In some cases, Bowman personally handled the investigation of work-related employee injuries, directed the transportation of PACES wastewater and determined what safety equipment could be purchased or maintained. In the cases at issue, hazardous materials illegally were transported with false documents and without the required placards. More importantly, the workers were not properly protected from exposure to hazardous gases.
The exposure resulted in the deaths of two employees, Joey Sutter and Charles Sittig, who were truck drivers, at the PACES facility on Dec. 18, 2008 and Apr. 14, 2009. Placarding is critical to ensure the safety of first responders in the event of an accident or other highway incident. Bowman and PACES were indicted by a federal grand jury on July 18, 2012.
“Environmental violations are serious crimes, and in a worst-case scenario, they can kill people,” said Ivan Vikin, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Texas. “In this case, a senior manger’s actions led directly to the death of one of his employees. This is why we have laws regarding the safe and legal handling of hazardous materials. Enforcement of these laws must be consistent and uncompromising.”