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County files lawsuit over Watson Grinding explosion

As well they should.

Harris County and state officials entered the fray Thursday, bringing civil charges against Watson Grinding and Manufacturing in the explosion that left two dead and damaged 450 structures last week in west Houston.

The county has asked a judge to impose an immediate halt on all activity at the company until the site and surrounding area are deemed safe from fires and explosions. Officials also want a detailed inventory of materials on the premises as well as all air, water and soil samples and studies. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is also a party to the suit, as required by law.


The county lawsuit says Watson violated environmental, regulatory, nuisance and common law following the explosion involving “ultra-hazardous chemicals” Friday at its Gessner facility. It says the company violated the Clean Air Act by exposing the public to unauthorized emissions, imperiling public health, general welfare, physical property, basic air resources and visibility. The county also states Watson created a public nuisance and violated Texas code by failing to report dangerous emissions and through unauthorized outdoor burning and air pollution.

Watson discharged air pollutants into the atmosphere including propylene and byproducts of combustion when a 2,000 gallon tank exploded, the lawsuit says.

“Flying glass and debris injured many residents while they slept,” court documents say. “As a result of the blast, many nearby residents cannot occupy their damaged homes while others now live in damaged structures.”

As of Thursday, the emission event had not been reported to the TCEQ or to Harris County Pollution Control, according to the county.

“Watson’s use of propylene was an ultra-hazardous activity and the company failed to exercise its duty of care to protect the public,” County Attorney Vince Ryan said in a draft of a news release, “particularly when the facility is located in a neighborhood.”

The lawsuit says Watson officials were negligent in failing to maintain equipment and properly store chemicals. Its failure to properly train, supervise and monitor employees endangered lives and damaged property, according to a draft copy.

“Due to the high degree of risk involved it Watson’s conduct, Watson’s actual and subjective constructive awareness of this risk, the fact that Watson had been made aware of the probability and extent of the potential harm that could result from engaging in such conduct on numerous occasions by numerous governmental regulatory authorities, Watson continued to operate in a reckless manner demonstrating a conscious indifference to welfare and safety of others, including employees and residents of Harris County,” the suit says.

The county will seek exemplary damages for gross negligence, according to documents.

See here for the background. Other lawsuits are being filed as well; the more, the merrier, I say. Part of this, as the County Attorney notes, is to ensure that all evidence is preserved. I’m sure we’ll find out that there were even more problems at this place than firsts reported. Harris County has invested more resources in environmental protection, and there may need to be more beyond that. For now, let’s do all we can to figure this one out, and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.

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  1. David Fagan says:

    Reactionary as usual. If people want prevention, it is in fire inspections. Dallas Fire Department pays $600/month for fire fighters to carry a master inspectors’ certification. What does Houston Fire Department have for comparison? Nothing. What does Houston Fire Department have for incentive? Nothing. How many times has a fire crew been on that property with an opportunity to put eyes on everything? With eyes that have been trained and certified in what to look for? Is this incentivised? With certifications that are expensive, how does HFD incentivise it’s ff’s to obtain them?
    Do they offer education reimbursement? No.
    Could an effective inspection have prevented this? Who’s to say. Would people see the value in $600/ month for the chance to prevent the next one and incentivise ff’s to improve themselves and obtain higher certifications? Good question.

  2. C.L. says:

    Does DFD have 500 on their payroll with that certification, or five ? Are the citizens of Houston going to be okay with paying firefighters $600/mo for them to hold a certification they may rarely be asked to utilize considering the relatively low number of Watkins-like facilities that are not already being policed by OSHA, the EPA, TDEQ, the Houston Ship Channel/Port of Houston Authority, and the plants themselves, etc ? An even better set of questions.

    I suspect Houston has a shit ton more chemical industry-related industry buildings than our neighbors to the North.