CG Roxane, LLC (Crystal Geyser), United Pumping Services, Inc. and United Storm Water, Inc. are now each facing a statutory maximum fine of $8 million on a 16-count indictment recently returned by a United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, grand jury. The three companies are charged with the alleged failure to disclose information regarding arsenic in wastewater transported from Crystal Geyser’s Olancha, California, facility in March and May 2015. The alleged hazardous wastewater transport violated both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA).
Crystal Geyser, a limited liability corporation, produces bottled drinking water in Olancha, CA in the Owens Valley. According to the grand jury’s indictment, Crystal Geyser draws water from local, natural sources that contained naturally occurring arsenic. To reduce the concentration of arsenic Crystal Geyser would use sand filters to so that the water met federal drinking water standards. The investigation and the recently filed indictment are focused on the alleged violations involving Crystal Geyser’s wastewater but not the safety or quality of Crystal Geyser’s bottled water.
To maintain the effectiveness of the sand filters, Crystal Geyser utilized a process that generated thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater. The company regenerated the sand filters by back-flushing a hydroxide and water solution through the sand filters, causing the filters to release arsenic into the hydroxide and water solution.
Allegedly Crystal Geyser then discharged the arsenic-contaminated wastewater into a nearby manmade pond which Crystal Geyser called “the Arsenic Pond.” Testing by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) in September 2014 revealed the wastewater in Arsenic Pond constituted a hazardous waste. Subsequent DTSC testing in October 2014 found hazardous waste conditions in the wastewater generated by Crystal Geyser’s regeneration process.
Although Crystal Geyser ceased discharging regeneration wastewater into Arsenic Pond after DTSC’s October testing, in March 2015 Crystal Geyser regenerated and back-flushed the sand filters and, it subsequently hired United Pumping and United Storm Water, both based in the City of Industry, to transport the resulting wastewater — several thousand gallons of high pH, arsenic-contaminated wastewater — to a hazardous waste facility in Los Angeles County.
The indictment further alleges that in April 2015, DTSC informed Crystal Geyser that the wastewater in the Arsenic Pond constituted a hazardous waste. They instructed Crystal Geyser to remove the wastewater from the Arsenic Pond and to transport it, using a hazardous waste manifest, to an authorized facility permitted to accept that specific type of hazardous waste.
In hiring United Pumping and United Storm Water, Crystal Geyser again violated RCRA and HMTA. The two subcontractors drained Arsenic Pond and transported the contents of the Arsenic Pond to a facility in Fontana, California despite the fact that that facility was not permitted to treat hazardous waste.
“Our nation’s environmental laws are specifically designed to ensure that hazardous wastes are properly handled from beginning to end – from the point of generation to the point of disposal,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “The alleged behavior of the three companies charged in this indictment undermines that important objective and jeopardizes the safety of our community.”
The indictment further indicates that Crystal Geyser, United Pumping, and United Storm Water transported the contents of the Arsenic Pond using non-hazardous waste manifests. They did not identify the arsenic in the wastewater, even though they knew that the water constituted arsenic hazardous waste.
“EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to the protection of public health and safety,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Jay M. Green of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in CA. “This case was opened due to the hazards posed by illegal management and transportation of hazardous wastes. Today’s charges demonstrate that those who refuse to comply with the law will be held to account and prosecuted.”
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Dennis Mitchell and Erik M. Silber of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section. The investigation into the three defendants’ crimes is being conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigations Division and the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.