Georgia-based Transit Company Faces Federal-level Criminal Charges for Fatal Ammonia Spill in 2009
Criminal charges have been filed against Werner Transportation Services, Inc, of Georgia, in Colmbia, SC. The company is implicated in a fatal 2009 chemical spill near Swansea, in rural Lexington County.
The company was indicted on Wednesday, February 6th, by a Columbia, SC federal grand jury for violating the US Clean Air Act. The company could be fined up to $500,000. They are also charged for “negligently [placing] another person in imminent danger of death and serious bodily injury ’’ in violation of federal law, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to the filing at the US District Court, “The company is accused of negligently releasing into the ambient air a hazardous air pollutant and an extremely hazardous substances, that is, anhydrous ammonia, and negligently placed another person in imminent danger of death and serious bodily injury.”
In July 2009, a rupture between 4 and 6 inches in a hose, which was being used to move anhydrous ammonia from a tanker to a storage tank at Tanner Industries in Swansea, released a cloud of the deadly chemical into the surrounding area. According to reports, the cloud contained approximately 10,000 lbs of ammonia, which blanketed the area around the plant.
Some months after the accident, the state Office of Occupational Safety and Health issued 9 safety violations against Werner Transportation. Criminal charges extended to Tanner Industries as well, which has headquarters in Pennsylvania.
Authorities from OSHA conducted safety inspections in South Carolina for both Werner Transportation and Tanner Industries, and concluded that seven of the nine listed violations were serious. Among the violations, Tanner was cited for not having an alarm system for employees, not providing proper training to handle hazardous materials, and for using an improper hose – the damaged hose that caused the toxic gas release. Werner Transportation was also cited for using the damaged hose. They also received three citations for respirator use.
Tanner officials have said they were relying on the trucking company to use the right hose.
At the time, Tanner was fined more than $23,000 for those violations, and Werner was fined over $5,000.
The federal case could lead to more serious criminal charges for Werner Transportation, however. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control fined Tanner $91,000 in 2010 because of a series of emergency preparedness failures that led to the spill. Tanner has also come under federal investigation, but there is no word yet on potential criminal charges regarding this case.
One Death Directly Attributed to the Accident Leads to Criminal Charges Against the Company
The victim, 38-year-old Jaqueline Ginyard of Wagener, was on her way to work early that morning when she came upon the cloud of ammonia. She decided to drive through the cloud, but her car stalled. She then got out of her car to run, but did get very far, according to reports. Deputies found her body near her car.
Ginyard was a health care worker and mother of two.
Although she was the only death, Ginyard was not the only victim of the ammonia cloud. Reportedly, five plant workers and two outsiders were sent to a local hospital for treatment, after inhaling the toxic gas. The leaking ammonia blackened trees and grass for hundreds of yards around the Tanner Industries plant.
At the time, the leak was considered the worst chemical spill in South Carolina since a train derailment in 2005 released chlorine and killed 9 people near Graniteville.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Criminal Charges for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death
If you or a loved one face serious personal injury, or a loved one has been killed, in relation to a chemical spill or industrial accident, the attorneys at the Strom Law Firm can help. It is important to file criminal charges against corporations as soon as possible, citing all personal injuries and incidents of wrongful death. Help hold businesses accountable for their actions. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case, so do not hesitate to contact us. 803.252.4800.