NEBRASKA – Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services (NRCS) and its top executives have been hit with a 22-count criminal indictment, three years after two of its employees died and a third was injured while cleaning rail tank cars.
The charges include criminal conspiracy, violating safety standards resulting in worker deaths, violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by dumping hazardous waste, and for submitting false documents to a federal agency. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the company received 30 citations from OSHA.
On April 14, 2015, a check of the air quality inside a tank car indicated a serious risk of an explosion. In spite of that warning, NRCS sent two employees into the railcar to work without further monitoring the air for explosive hazards as required. The employees also were not given emergency retrieval equipment or properly fitted respirators.
Both were killed when the tank car then exploded.
NRCS’s president and owner, Steven Michael Braithwaite, and vice president and co-owner, Adam Thomas Braithwaite, now face charges that they not only failed to implement worker safety standards but then tried to cover that up during the subsequent OSHA inspection.
They also are charged with mishandling hazardous wastes removed from rail tanker cars during the cleaning process.
After OSHA inspectors returned to NRCS in March 2015 to conduct a follow-up inspection and was turned away, NRCS allegedly created and submitted documents to OSHA to falsely show that NRCS had purchased equipment to test the contents of railcars for benzene and had taken other required safety precautions.
In addition, during inspections by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2013 and 2014, NRCS was informed that it must test its wastes to determine if they were hazardous in order to properly dispose of them, rather than send all untested waste to a landfill not permitted to receive hazardous waste. The indictment alleges that was not done before April 2015.
According to the EPA, “this case demonstrates the importance of environmental compliance to safeguard public health and safety.”