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Texas biomass pellet producer to restart operations following fire

26 February 2018

German Pellets (GPTX) of Port Arthur, Texas, has said it plans to restart operations after repairs and required changes to its storage silos. The pellets in one of its five large silos caught fire and smouldered for two months in early 2017, causing health and air quality issues across the town.

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Texas Pellets and GPTX removed all 4,700 tons of pellets and remains under a stop work order from the city of Port Arthur until it implements safety measures required in a hazard analysis plan.

GPTX, which is in bankruptcy proceedings, has refused to release the plan in response to public information requests, citing protected trade secrets and confidential commercial information.

More than 30 residents and property owners of the neighbourhood near the silos filed a lawsuit against GPTX in October, alleging the company and the incident response firm it hired were negligent in causing and responding to the fire.

In a petition filed earlier this month, they outline a history of violations that GPTX was fined for by the US Department of Labor, totalling more than $260,000.

GPTX, which has facilities in Port Arthur, Woodville and Louisiana, was fined for "repeat," "willful" and "serious" violations, according to records from the Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The company did not provide employees with a workplace that was "free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm," OSHA said in one citation, issued to the Port Arthur site in August 2017.

In February 2017, employees were "exposed to dust explosion, deflagration, and other fire hazards when using equipment with internal combustion engines while working in an environment normally expected to contain airborne combustible dust," the citation said.

That violation was categorized as willful, because the company "knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement" or "acted with plain indifference to employee safety."

The company has contested the violations, according to OSHA records.

OSHA has also opened an investigation into the death of Jesus Cuevas, an employee who died while removing pellets from the silos on Oct. 20.

In a suit against the company, his family allege that Cuevas was trapped and suffocated when pellets fell on him due to GPTX's negligence.

That suit is pending in federal court, and OSHA's inspection remains open.

The city of Port Arthur filed suit against the company in June, alleging it violated city nuisance and public health ordinances. Judge Donald Floyd granted a temporary injunction to halt operations until the repairs and improvements are complete.

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