Three other chemically-related EPA enforcement cases announced yesterday:
Chemical Company Responsible for Formation of Toxic Chlorine Gas Cloud Over Atchison, Kansas Pleads Guilty to Clean Air Act Violation
On January 31, 2020, Harcros Chemicals, Inc., of Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty to violating a federal clean air law in connection with a toxic chlorine gas cloud that formed over Atchison, Kan., in 2016, U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said.
According to the company‰??s plea agreement, Harcros is expected to pay a $1 million fine. The co-defendant in the case, MGP Ingredients, Inc., of Atchison pleaded guilty in November in the same case. That company also is expected to pay a $1 million fine.
Harcros pleaded guilty to negligently violating the federal Clean Air Act. In its plea, the company admitted that on Oct. 21, 2016, a greenish-yellow chlorine gas cloud formed when 4,000 gallons of sulfuric acid were mistakenly combined with 5,800 gallons of sodium hypochlorite. The Atchison County Department of Emergency Management ordered community members to shelter in place and to evacuate in some areas. Approximately 140 individuals in- cluding members of the public, first responders, employees of MGP Ingredients and Harcros Chemicals sought medical attention.
‰??The chemicals involved in this case posed serious public health and environmental dangers,‰?? said Assistant Director Justin Oesterreich of EPA‰??s Criminal Investigation Division in Kansas. ‰??EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding responsible parties accountable for actions that put an entire community at risk.‰??
Sentencing is scheduled for May 27, 2020.
The case was investigated by EPA‰??s Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by a DOJ litigation team.
Bottler of Crystal Geyser Water Pleads Guilty to Illegally Storing and Transporting Hazard- ous Wastewater Contaminated with Arsenic
The company that produces ‰??Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water‰?? pleaded guilty on January 9, 2020 to federal charges of illegally storing and transporting hazardous waste created from filtering arsenic out of spring water at its facility in Olancha, California.
CG Roxane, LLC pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlaw- ful transportation of hazardous material. In a plea agreement recently filed in United States District Court, CG Roxane agreed to pay a criminal fine of $5 million.
According to court documents, CG Roxane obtained water by drawing groundwater from the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains that contained naturally occurring arsenic. The company used sand filters to reduce the concentration of arsenic so the water would meet federal drinking water standards. To maintain the effectiveness of the sand filters, CG Roxane back-flushed the filters with a sodium hydroxide solution, which generated thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater.
For approximately 15 years, CG Roxane discharged the arsenic-contaminated wastewater into a manmade pond ‰?? known as ‰??the Arsenic Pond‰?? ‰?? at its Olancha facility along Highway 395.
In March 2013, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board took a sample from the Arsenic Pond and in 2014 informed CG Roxane that the sample had an arsenic concentration that was more than eight times the hazardous waste limit, creating a risk to the area‰??s groundwater and wildlife. The water board referred the matter to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which took its own samples that showed the Arsenic Pond had an arsenic concentration almost five times the federal hazardous waste limit. Subsequent sampling and testing by CG Roxane and its retained laboratory confirmed a similar arsenic con- centration in the Arsenic Pond.
DTSC officials met with CG Roxane representatives in April 2015, presented a list of preliminary violations, and instructed the company to arrange for the removal of the Arsenic Pond.
In May 2015, CG Roxane hired two Los Angeles-area entities to remove the hazardous waste and transport it ‰?? which was done without the proper manifest and without identifying the wastewater as a hazardous mate- rial, according to court documents. The arsenic-contaminated wastewater was ultimately transported to a Southern California facility that was not authorized to receive or treat hazardous waste. As a result, more than 23,000 gallons of the wastewater from the Arsenic Pond allegedly was discharged into a sewer without appropriate treatment.
CG Roxane pleaded guilty to the two felony offenses before United States District Judge S. James Otero, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for February 24.
The two companies hired to transport and treat the wastewater ‰?? United Pumping Services, Inc. and United Storm Water, Inc., both located in the City of Industry ‰?? were charged along with CG Roxane in this case in 2018. Both of those companies are scheduled to go on trial on April 21. If convicted, each company would face a statutory maximum fine of $8 million.
This case was investigated by EPA‰??s Criminal Investigations Division and the United States Department of Transportation‰??s Office of Inspector General with assistance from the California Department of Toxic Sub- stances Control. This case was prosecuted by a DOJ litigation team.
Note: The investigation in this case focused on alleged violations involving the handling, storage and transportation of CG Roxane‰??s wastewater, not the safety or quality of CG Roxane‰??s bottled water.
Seattle, Washington Barrel and Cooperage Company and Owner Indicted for Ten-Year Water Pollution Scheme‰??
Used hidden drain, pump, and repeated lies to regulators to routinely dump highly caustic pollutants into sewer system
On Wednesday, December 18, 2019, a federal grand jury in Seattle, Washington, returned a 36-count indictment charging Seattle Barrel and Cooperage Company, its owner, Louie Sanft, and its plant manager, John Sanft, with a ten-year scheme to illegally dump caustic waste into the King County sewer system, which ultimately empties into Puget Sound. The company allegedly used a hidden drain and lied to regulators to carry out their illegal dumping. The defendants are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle on the indictment on January 9, 2020.
‰??At a time when we are searching for strategies to protect Puget Sound and improve water quality for fish and wildlife, we need companies to do their share ‰?? not scheme for ways to pollute in private,‰?? said U. S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. ‰??I commend the investigators of the Environmental Protection Agency who investigated this assault on our natural resources.‰??
Seattle Barrel‰??s business involves collecting used industrial and commercial drums and reconditioning and reselling them. Part of the reconditioning process involves washing the barrels in a highly-corrosive chemical solution. The caustic solution has a very high pH level. According to the indictment, since at least 2009, Seattle Barrel has operated under a discharge permit that prohibits it from dumping effluent with a pH exceeding 12 to the sewer system. Effluent above pH 12 will corrode the sewer system and treatment plant, and potentially cause pass-through pollution to the Duwamish Waterway and Puget Sound.
In 2013, King County conducted covert monitoring of Seattle Barrel, and discovered the company was illegally dumping effluent with a pH above 12 in violation of its permit. King County fined the company $55,250, but later agreed to reduce the fine when Seattle Barrel installed a pretreatment system for its wastewater. Beginning in 2016, Louie Sanft represented to King County in written monthly certifications that the company had become a ‰??zero discharge‰?? facility and was not discharging any industrial wastewater to the sewer.
In fact, in 2018 and 2019 additional covert monitoring by the EPA inspectors revealed that Seattle Barrel was continuing to routinely dump wastewater with a pH above 12 into the sewer system. EPA agents obtained a warrant to search Seattle Barrel. Agents then installed real-time monitoring equipment that allowed them to determine when the dumping was taking place.
Early on the morning of March 8, 2019, the covert monitors indicated Seattle Barrel was dumping high-pH material into the sewer. Agents then executed the warrant and entered the building. Inside, they discovered a portable pump on the floor near the tank of caustic solution. The drain led directly to the sewer system.
‰??Our nation‰??s environmental laws are designed to protect our communities and natural resources from hazardous pollutants, said Special Agent in Charge Jeanne Proctor of EPA‰??s criminal investigation program in Washington. ‰??This indictment demonstrates that companies that intentionally violate those laws will be held responsible for their crimes.‰??
Defendants Louie Sanft, 53, of Seattle is the owner and operator of Seattle Barrel. John Sanft, 51, of Issaquah, WA, is the plant manager. The two defendants are cousins. The defendants are charged with criminal conspiracy and 29 counts of violating the Clean Water Act for discharges in 2018 and 2019. The men and the company are also charged with four counts of submitting false Clean Water Act Certifications. Each defendant is also charged with making false statements to special agents of the EPA.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison. Violation of the Clean Water Act is punishable by up to three years in prison per count. Making a false statement is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The case is being investigated by EPA‰??s Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by a joint DOJ/EPA litigation team.
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