HOUSTON, Texas (AP) - A chemical company has been ordered to pay 16 million dollars and sentenced to a two-year probationary period for its role in a poisonous leak of gas that killed four employees at a Houston area plant more than a decade earlier.
In November 2014, employees of the now closed DuPont chemical factory in LaPorte in Texas died when a chemical, methylmercaptan (used in the manufacture of insecticides and fungicides), was released.
U.S. attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani of Houston said that the deaths were due to 'DuPont criminal negligence'
Hamdani stated that the sentence sent today was a clear indication of the office's commitment to hold managers of industrial facilities and corporations who own and operate these facilities accountable for violating... laws intended to protect the safety and well-being of nearby communities and workers.
In a Monday court hearing, DuPont and Kenneth Sandel who managed the unit in the plant where these employees died, both pleaded guilty on one count to negligent release of a highly hazardous substance.
DuPont was ordered to complete two years probation by U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rosenthal. This means that federal officials have access to every location where the company operates. DuPont also had to pay a criminal penalty of $12 million and a community service payment of $4 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Sandel has been ordered to serve a year's probation.
Corteva, the spin-off of DuPont which took over DuPont's agricultural operations, issued a statement expressing its 'deep regret' for the fatal gas leak.
Corteva, based in Indianapolis, said that safety was a core value.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a final report in 2019 about the fatal gas leak. It concluded that various deficiencies of the safety management system, such as problems with troubleshooting, safe working practices, and toxic gas detection, contributed to the severity.
Sandel's attorneys, who are 52 years old, did not respond to emails seeking comments. Federal prosecutors requested in court documents that Sandel be sentenced for eight months.
Around 4 am on November 15, 2014, the chemical started leaking out of a valve in an unit at a plant in La Porte. This is about 20 miles east of Houston. Crystle Tisnado, Wade Baker, and Robert and Gilbert Tisnado died. Five workers were injured.
According to an indictment and the prosecution, Sandel and DuPont engineers devised a scheme to divert large volumes of methylmercaptan into a waste-gas pipe system the night before the fatal accident. Sandel, however, failed to follow the necessary procedures for evaluating safety aspects of this plan, according prosecutors.
According to the Chemical Safety Board, the unit where workers died didn't have adequate ventilation, or air monitoring, to ensure employee safety. And procedures that would have restricted access to areas where ventilation fans were not working weren't followed.
In 2016, DuPont permanently closed the insecticide plant where workers died.
Brent Coon is an attorney who represents Wise's parents. He believes that jail time would prevent similar tragedies. DuPont settled the lawsuits brought by Wise’s family and those of the other victims.
Coon stated that it is up to the public to decide whether probation is a fair punishment for someone whose decisions led to several painful and highly avoidable deaths. Follow Juan A. Lozano's Twitter account: