A federal grand jury in Houston indicted DuPont and a former employee for knowingly violating requirements of federal safety regulations and negligently releasing a hazardous substance, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick announced.
Kenneth Sandel, 49, Friendswood, along with representatives of DuPont appeared before a U.S. Magistrate Judge.
The indictment stems from the Nov. 15, 2014, incident at the LaPorte plant when 24,000 pounds of methyl mercaptan – a highly toxic, flammable gas – were released. The incident resulted in the deaths of four plant employees and injured others. The plant has been closed.
Sandel ran the Insecticide Business Unit (IBU) at that location and was responsible for ensuring IBU employees followed applicable federal safety regulations.
The IBU has since been demolished, but at the time, according to charging papers produced pesticides called Lannate and Vydate, among other products. The indictment alleges Lannate and Vydate generated annual net income for DuPont of approximately $123 million during 2014.
The indictment alleges DuPont and Sandel knowingly failed to implement certain DuPont procedures federal regulations required. Sandel and DuPont engineers allegedly devised a plan to divert a large volume of methyl mercaptan gas into a waste gas pipe system during the day before and the night of the fatal incident. However, Sandel failed to implement necessary procedures to evaluate safety aspects of that plan and to prohibit workers from opening the pipe to the atmosphere, according to the charges.
If convicted of the federal safety regulations violations, Sandel faces up to five years in federal prison while the negligence charge could result in an additional one-year term. Both convictions also carry a potential fine of $250,000.
The company itself faces potential fines of the greater of $500,000 or twice the gross gain derived from the offense.
The EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division conducted the investigation with assistance from the Texas Environmental Enforcement Task Force.
A DuPont spokesman pointed out that the current DuPont Co. is not a party to the action.
The indictment is part of an EPA initiative titled Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities. See earlier story below