Texas truck driver dies of hydrogen sulfide exposure

The former president of Port Arthur Chemical and Environmental Services LLC (PACES) has been sentenced for occupational safety crimes that resulted in the death of an employee.

Matthew Lawrence Bowman, 41, of Houston, pleaded guilty on May 9, 2013, to violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) and making a false statement and was sentenced to serve 12 months in federal prison by a U.S. District Judge Bowman was also ordered to pay fines in the amount of $5,000.

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 wastewater was coming from PACES after a disposal facility put a moratorium on all shipments from PACES after it received loads containing hydrogen sulfide.

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.

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 were transported illegally with false documents and without the required placards. Most 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.

"The sentencing is a clear signal of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT), and its Office of Inspector General's (OIG) commitment to protecting the public from illegally transported hazardous materials," said Max Smith, regional Special Agent-in-Charge, USDOT OIG. "Working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues we will continue our vigorous efforts to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who would seek to disregard the Nation's transportation laws and endanger the public."

Several other federal and Texas state agencies were involved in investigating and prosecuting the case, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.