HOUSTON – Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Co., the business at the center of a propylene explosion last month that killed two people and damaged over 400 nearby homes, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to a statement issued by the company.
Company officials said the filing will “allow the company to continue operation of its businesses and service to its customers while it works through a plan of reorganization.”
Located off of Gessner Road in northwest Harris County, the company is currently at the center of several lawsuits since the explosion that shook parts of Houston on Jan. 24.
Company officials said that what is expected to be a “long-term interruption of business operations,” forced them to terminate the employment of nearly 80 workers this week.
Watson Valve, a business near the explosion site, would contract with Watson Grinding to make machine products for customers. It continues to operate at approximately 20% of normal capacity by utilizing other suppliers, according to company officials.
“Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected by this tragedy and we are convinced that the best way to ensure our organization can play a positive role in the long-term recovery of the area is by remaining a viable business,” said John Watson, son of the company’s founder and the CEO of Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Co. “We are a family business and through this reorganization, we intend to save the company and protect and restore the jobs for our dedicated and hardworking team.”
The explosion killed Watson Grinding employees Frank Flores and Gerardo Castorena.
Officials said a preliminary investigation determined propylene leaked from a tank at the business and was ignited by a spark in the electrical system.
Mayor Sylvester Turner released a statement following the bankruptcy filing:
I am surprised and disappointed to learn that Watson Grinding & Manufacturing Co. filed for bankruptcy and fired 80 employees. The January 24 early morning explosion killed two people, damaged 450 structures and changed countless lives. The company’s decision must not slow the pace of the recovery or the investigation. It is important that authorities determine both the cause of the blast and hold the responsible party accountable. The city is working with non-profit organizations like Memorial Assistance Ministries to assist those with the greatest need. As a result of the explosion, my administration has started transparent discussions about how to prevent similar explosions in the future and to tighten regulations for chemical companies operating near homes and schools. I look forward to working with members of the Houston city council, state legislators and our congressional delegation to make significant changes that will help protect people and property in the future.