HOUSTON – A Houston federal grand jury has indicted E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company Inc. (DuPont) and a former employee for knowingly violating requirements of federal safety regulations and negligently releasing an extremely hazardous substance, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick announced today.
Kenneth Sandel, 49, Friendswood, along with representatives of DuPont are set to appear today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy at 10 a.m.
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, according to the charges.
According to the charges, returned Jan. 7, DuPont is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, and owns chemical manufacturing plants around the world, including the La Porte facility. 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, allegedly 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 safety regulations are part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Risk Management Plan, created following 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. Congress had directed the EPA to create reasonable regulations to prevent the release of certain hazardous chemicals after such events had resulted in the death or injury to many people in the United States and abroad.
The indictment alleges DuPont and Sandel knowingly failed to implement certain DuPont procedures federal regulations required. Specifically, 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 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. The indictment is part of an EPA initiative titled Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities. Assistant U.S. Attorneys John R. Lewis and Belinda Beek and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristina Gonzales are prosecuting the case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.