HOUSTON — Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has filed a lawsuit against Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, alleging violations of numerous laws following an explosion at the facility at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 24.
The County Attorney’s lawsuit alleges that Watson discharged air pollutants into the atmosphere (including propylene and byproducts of combustion) when a 2,000 gallon propylene tank exploded. Two workers were killed in the blast and 450 homes and businesses were damaged. Flying glass and debris injured many residents while they slept.
The explosion killed Frank Flores and Gerardo Castorena. The men were both employees of the business and had shown up early to work out at the gym on site.
Castorena Sr. was a father to three girls and a Marine son. A picture was provided of Castorena with his children and his mother. Flores was a husband, father and grandfather.
As a result of the blast, many nearby residents cannot occupy their damaged homes while others now live in damaged structures. As of this date, the emission event has not been reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) or to Harris County Pollution Control.
“Watson’s use of propylene was an ultra-hazardous activity and the company failed to exercise its duty of care to protect the public,” Ryan said, “particularly when the facility is located in a neighborhood.”
Ryan is requesting a temporary restraining order immediately directing Watson Grinding to cease all operations and not resume operations at this facility until a determination is made by the City of Houston Fire Department and an independent third-party expert, as agreed by the parties and/or as appointed by the Court, completes a process hazard analysis and finds that operations will not cause further fires or explosion.
The County Attorney also wants Watson ordered not to dispose of any solid waste, unless it has been properly characterized and is disposed of at a TCEQ-permitted facility authorized to accept the waste stream and not spill or discharge any waste onto the ground or water. The County wants a detailed inventory of all substances, products, and materials located at Watson and wants Watson ordered to share any air, water or soil samples it took and their analyses of these samples.
The lawsuit alleges that 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, and yet Watson still continued to operate in a reckless manner demonstrating a conscious indifference to welfare and safety of others, including employees and nearby residents, Harris County is seeking exemplary damages for Watson’s gross negligence.
“The Watson explosion occurred in the incorporated area of the largest un-zoned city in the United States,” said Ryan. “Unfortunately, City of Houston and State of Texas environmental and property use regulations do not prohibit this kind of activity in neighborhoods where children play and citizens live and work. Because of the lack of regulation, Harris County has a duty to protect its residents from future occurrences at this facility.”