Harris Co. to move forward with explosion lawsuit

By R. HANS MILLER - TIMES SENIOR REPORTER
Posted 2/12/20

UPDATE Feb. 12, 2020: Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office announced Feb. 7 that the county will continue with its lawsuit regarding a Jan. 24 explosion at the Watson Grinding and …

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Harris Co. to move forward with explosion lawsuit

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UPDATE FEB. 12, 2020: Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office announced Feb. 7 that the county will continue with its lawsuit regarding a Jan. 24 explosion at the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing plant in the 4500 block of Gessner Road in northwest Harris County. Watson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Feb. 6.

“The bankruptcy may impact lawsuits filed by others, but because the purpose of our suit is to protect the public, we will be able to move forward with it,” Ryan said.

Harris County’s lawsuit alleges that Watson discharged air pollutants into the atmosphere when a 2,000-gallon propylene tank exploded. The explosion damaged buildings as far away as half a mile and several people were injured by broken glass and other effects of the explosion. Two Watson employees were killed in the blast.

Watson Grinding and Manufacturing did not respond to requests for comment in time to be included in this article. According to the company’s website, the company has manufactured precision machined parts, thermal spray coatings and grinding services to the oil, gas, chemical and mining industries for more than 50 years.

“While our lawsuit is not seeking to recover for the damages the neighbors suffered, we are working to make sure that this facility and others like it don’t operate in ways that are hazardous to their neighbors,” Ryan said.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FEB. 6, 2020:

The office of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan announced Jan. 30 that the county will be filing a lawsuit against Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, alleging that a number of laws were broken following Jan. 24 explosion in the 4500 block of Gessner Road in northwest Harris County that killed two people, according to a Harris County press release.

“Watson’s use of propylene was an ultra-hazardous activity and the company failed to exercise its duty of care to protect the public, particularly when the facility is located in a neighborhood,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s office has filed a request for a restraining order that would prevent Watson from resuming operations at the facility until any related investigations into the explosion are completed, according to a copy of the court filing. Additionally, the county attorney is asking that Watson be ordered not to dispose of any solid waste unless it has been properly characterized and is disposed of at a facility that is properly permitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Damage from the Jan. 24 explosion extended for about half a mile around the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing facility and was still visible on many of the surrounding structures in the area as of Feb. 4. Two workers were killed in the explosion and about 450 homes were damaged when a 2,000-gallon propylene tank exploded.

According to Linde-Gas.com, propylene is a colorless fuel gas that is similar to propane but burns at a higher temperature and is made from refining gasoline.

“The Watson explosion occurred in the incorporated area of the largest un-zoned city in the United States,” Ryan said. “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.”

Watson Grinding and Manufacturing did not respond to a request for comment in time to be included in this story.

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