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Two-Month Fire at Texas Wood Pellet Plant Leads to Lawsuits

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 31, 2017 1:58 PM

For more than two months, a smoldering fire in wood pellet silos engulfed the South Texas town of Port Arthur. According to a new lawsuit filed by residents of a nearby neighborhood, the conditions during those two months were dire: "The smoke filled plaintiffs' homes. The smoke saturated not only the homes, but also their cars, clothing and other personal belongings. Plaintiffs could not sleep due to smoke and its smell entering their bedrooms."

The suit claims German Pellets Texas was negligent in both preventing and putting out the fire at its plant, and that smoke from the fire has caused serious health problems for residents.

Problematic Pellet Plant

Wood pellets are biofuels, made up of industrial wood waste from logging like bark, wood chips, and sawdust, and can be burned as fuel in commercial or residential heating. As such, the pellets create an implicit fire risk. According to the lawsuit, the German Pellets facility in Port Arthur, while only being open a few years, was the focus of repeated investigations, warnings, and fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality based on hazardous working conditions and air quality issues in and around the facility.

Additionally, a former maintenance employee claims the company's safety practices were questionable, that he was fired after filing an OSHA complaint, and that the silo fires were "bound to happen." And the family of another employee is suing after he was killed removing pellets from one of the silos just last week.

Fire Liability

Beyond the company's checkered safety record leading up to the fire, the residents' lawsuit claims the firm hired to put out the smoldering silo fires "prioritized protecting German Pellets' property over preventing harm to adjacent neighborhoods," allowing the fire to burn much longer than it should have. And that time mattered to neighbors, who have suffered from severe breathing problems, according to the suit, including asthma, sinus infections, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causing some to be hospitalized.

The suit, filed by more than thirty Jefferson County, Texas residents is seeking over $1 million in damages for negligence, gross negligence, nuisance, and trespass.

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