Harris County files lawsuit against Watson Grinding and Manufacturing

Harris County has filed a lawsuit against Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, alleging violations of numerous laws following an explosion at the facility last week.

The explosion at the northwest Houston plant occurred at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Friday, January 24. County Attorney Vince Ryan'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. 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 incident 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,” County Attorney Ryan said, “Particularly when the facility is located in a neighborhood.” 

County Attorney 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 in Watson’s conduct, and 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, and yet Watson still continued to operate in a reckless manner, 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 County Attorney Ryan. “Unfortunately, the 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.”