Five Criminal Water Pollution Charges Filed Against ITC

May 06, 2019
Harris County, TX District Attorney Kim Ogg announced that her office filed five environmental criminal charges against Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC), whose Deer Park refinery tanks caught fire on March 17.
“People living in Deer Park and the other neighboring residential areas near ITC’s plant deserve protection too,” Ogg said. “When public health is at risk, it’s a public safety concern.”
Following the fire, the company’s makeshift dike broke, sending large (and still unknown) quantities of xylene and benzene, highly toxic chemicals, into Tucker Bayou which flows directly into the Galveston Bay.
The Environmental Crimes Division’s review of the evidence demonstrates that the water pollution in Tucker Bayou was at criminal levels from March 17 through March 21, establishing probable cause to believe that the company should be criminally charged for each day it violated the law.
“The discharge from the ITC fire into Tucker Bayou is a clear water pollution case,” said Environmental Crimes Division Chief prosecutor Alex Forrest. “We are looking forward to reviewing the reports of other local and federal agencies, as they complete their investigations, so that we can determine if other charges will follow.”
ITC could face a fine of up to $100,000 per each of the five charges filed.
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Proposed Stormwater Industrial General Permit for Washington
The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has published a draft Industrial Stormwater General Permit for public comment. Comments on the draft permit documents are being accepted until June 29, 2019.  Ecology will publish a Response to Comments as an appendix to the fact sheet to address comments submitted during the public comment period.
The prior permit language is being modified to make the following changes:
  • Addition of two new industry groups that require coverage:
    • Marine construction
    • Construction, transportation, and mining equipment rental and leasing
  • Changing the timing of first flush
  • Revising requirements for consistent attainment
Guilty Plea in Tanker Truck Explosion Case
On February 27, 2019, Mark Hurst pleaded guilty to a Clean Air Act (CAA) negligent endangerment violation in connection with a tanker truck explosion in 2012 (42 US.C. § 7413(c)(4)).
Co-defendant Peter Margiotta, a Canadian citizen, acted as the president and director of Custom Carbon Processing, Inc. (CCP), a company that constructed and operated a slop oil reclamation and saltwater injection well disposal facility near Wibaux, Montana. The facility began operating during the summer of 2012. Hurst (also a Canadian citizen), reported directly to Margiotta as the company’s Montana Program Manager, overseeing the facility’s operations.
In July 2012, Hurst warned Margiotta of dangers posed by deficiencies at the facility, including the failure to employ explosion proof wiring for control panels, stating “[w] e also run the risk of killing someone, not only our operators but also customers.” Later in July 2012, CCP accepted shipments of highly volatile and flammable natural gas condensate, also known as “drip gas”, in a purported effort to help thin and process the slop oil during reclamation operations. In November 2012, Hurst warned Margiotta again about outstanding deficiencies at the facility, including the need to better ventilate hydrocarbon vapor releases.
On December 29, 2012, during the offloading of a shipment of drip gas into processing equipment at the facility, flammable vapors were released into and outside of the CCP facility, spreading to a tanker truck delivering the materials. The vapors ignited and exploded destroying the entire facility and injuring three employees. The truck continued to burn for over a week despite firefighting efforts to extinguish the fire.
This case represents the third prosecution related to this incident. Kelly Steen, a truck driver for Woody’s Trucking, LLC, pleaded guilty to violating the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA) for failing to post hazardous materials placards on his truck. In May 2018, a jury convicted Woody’s Trucking and owner Donald E. Woody, Jr., on 13 of the 14 counts for HMTA, wire fraud, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice offenses. Evidence proved that the defendants failed to secure proper hazmat shipping papers and didn’t post proper placards on numerous shipments of drip gas to CCP. They also submitted false claims to the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and its insurance company, stating that Woody’s Trucking only hauled non-hazardous slop oil and water.
In November 2018, the court sentenced Woody to 12 months and one day imprisonment, followed by three years supervised release. His company will complete a four-year term of probation and pay a $644,690 forfeiture judgment to its insurer, Great West Casualty Company (Great West). Both Woody and Woody’s Trucking are jointly and severally liable for restitution to Great West in the same amount.
Prosecutors charged CCP, Hurst, and Margiotta In December 2017, with conspiracy and CAA violations (18 U.S.C. §§ 371; 42 U.S.C. §§ 7413(c)(1), 7412(r)(1), and 7413(c) (5)). Margiotta is scheduled for trial to begin on June 19, 2019. Prosecutors dropped charges against CCP following its corporate dissolution.
These cases were investigated by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division and the DOT Office of Inspector General, with assistance from OSHA.
Trucker Guilty of Hazmat Transport Violations
Wiley Sanders Truck Lines Inc. (Wiley Sanders) has pleaded guilty to three violations of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (49 U.S.C. § 5124(a)). Sentencing is scheduled for May 6, 2019.
The trucking company operates in 47 states. For several years, the company transported recycled automotive battery cases from the EXIDE battery recycling and secondary lead smelting facility in Vernon, California, to a hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facility in Bakersfield, California. The EXIDE facility annually received and recycled tens of thousands of lead acid automotive batteries shipped from all over the country. As part of the battery recycling process, the facility generated a variety of hazardous wastes including corrosive lead, cadmium, arsenic, antimony, zinc, and chromium.
On August 10, 2013; November 1, 2013; and March 13, 2014; the company transported more than 40,000 pounds of lead-contaminated plastic battery chips from a battery recycling facility in a semi-truck trailer without authorized packaging. Wiley Sanders trucks illegally transported approximately 129,000 pounds of this hazardous material. The semi-trailers lacked lining to prevent the contents from escaping through cracks. The trucks transported wet loads, dripping lead and acid hazardous wastes on public roads, between Vernon and Bakersfield.
This case was investigated by the DOT Office of Inspector General, the EPA, and the California Department of Toxic Substances.
Shipper Disguised Boxes to Avoid Hazmat Regulations
Recently, a court sentenced Jianguo Zhong to pay a $5,000 fine and complete a six-month term of probation. Zhong, the owner of Zhong Supply LLC, pleaded guilty to illegally introducing a misbranded hazardous material into interstate commerce, in violation of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1263(a), 1264(a)).
Zhong offered bottles of Coppertone aerosol spray, a hazardous material, to a third-party freight forwarder for shipment to China. The aerosol should have been shipped as a hazardous material as the contents are flammable and under pressure. The investigation revealed that Zhong repackaged the material in unmarked containers, re-labelled the shipment as lotion and lip balm, and re-wrapped the containers with black shrink wrap to disguise the actual contents.
This case was investigated by the DOT Office of Inspector General, with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Company Illegally Shipped Millions of Pounds of Hazardous Waste
On February 20, 2019, a court sentenced Missouri Green Materials (MGM) to complete a two-year term of probation and held it jointly and severally liable for $1.5 million in restitution to the EPA. This is the final defendant in this case involving the illegal transportation of millions of pounds of hazardous waste.
A court sentenced MGM owners Penny and Daryl Duncan in October 2018 to complete five year terms of probation and pay the restitution to EPA. Raymond Williams acted as the president, owner, and CEO of U.S. Technology Corporation (UST). The company leased blasting material for use in the removal of paints and other substances. Military bases and agencies often require the use of abrasives to remove paint from tanks, planes, and other equipment. The paint often contains heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium, and lead, which get mixed in with the blasting material that is returned to the company.
In October 2013, Williams contacted Daryl Duncan for help in arranging for the disposal of almost ten million pounds of hazardous waste located in Yazoo City, Mississippi, at the former Hydromex site. (In 2008, the owner of the Hydromex facility pleaded guilty to illegal storage of hazardous waste and making false statements). Daryl and Penny Duncan subsequently created MGM for the sole purpose of receiving the hazardous waste in Berger, Missouri. Williams and UST illegally shipped the waste to the Duncans over a three-month period. Williams, UST, and MGM pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport hazardous waste (18 U.S.C. § 371).
The Duncans pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Air Act for placing a person in imminent danger by releasing hazardous waste into the air (42 U.S.C. § 7413(c)(4)). A court sentenced UST and Williams to complete five-year terms of probation and pay the restitution. In a separate criminal case from the Middle District of Georgia, a court sentenced Williams in January 2019 to 60 months’ incarceration for bribing a public official. Williams was further ordered to pay restitution of $870,000 to the U.S. Department of Defense in that matter. This case was investigated by the EPA Agency Criminal Investigation Division and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Biofuel Company Cited for Wastewater Violations
A U.S. District court sentenced biodiesel fuel company Fuel Bio One LLC to pay a $100,000 fine. The company also will complete a five-year term of probation during which it must  provide biannual reports to the court and the government documenting its waste generation, handling and disposal practices; develop, implement, and fund an employee training program to ensure that all employees are aware of proper waste handling and disposal practices and to ensure that all storage, treatment and disposal of wastewater complies with the Clean Water Act (CWA); and, allow the EPA full access to all offices, warehouses, and facilities owned or operated by the company.
The company pleaded guilty to violating the CWA for discharging thousands of gallons of wastewater into the Arthur Kill, a narrow waterway that separates New Jersey from Staten Island, New York (33 U.S.C. §§ 1311, 1319(c)(2)(A)).
Fuel Bio One generated wastewater that included methanol, biodiesel, and other contaminants, as a byproduct of its biodiesel fuel production at its Elizabeth, New Jersey, plant. On September 6, 2013, and November 9, 2013, company employees released a total of approximately 45,000 gallons of wastewater into a storm water pit at the plant, leading to the illegal discharge.
$3.3 Million Penalty for Oil Spill
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley announced the sentencing of Plains All American Pipeline, L.P. (Plains) for the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill in Santa Barbara County, California. Plains was sentenced to pay $3,347,650 in total fines and penalty assessments.
“Plains All American Pipeline’s criminal behavior was responsible for the oil leak that despoiled our coastline and endangered our environment,” said Attorney General Becerra. “My office has zero tolerance for these types of criminal acts. I am proud of our prosecution team who helped to bring a measure of justice for the massive loss that the Santa Barbara community endured.”
On May 19, 2015, a highly-pressurized pipeline operated by Plains to transport crude oil ruptured on shore just north of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, California. Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that over 140,000 gallons of crude oil was released from the pipeline, spilling crude oil into the Pacific Ocean and spreading across coastal beaches. At trial, testimony revealed that over 100,000 gallons of crude oil was never recovered. Local, state, and federal agencies led efforts to protect natural habitats and to try to address the residual hazardous materials remaining along the coast.
On September 7, 2018, a Santa Barbara County jury returned a verdict finding Plains guilty of failing to properly maintain its dangerous, highly-pressurized pipeline, which led to the discharge of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean, a felony. Plains was also found guilty of eight misdemeanor charges including one count of failing to follow its own spill plan and notify emergency response agencies, six counts of killing marine mammals, protected sea birds, and other marine life, and one count of violating a county ordinance prohibiting oil spills.
The guilty verdicts and this Court’s sentence result from a joint investigation by the California Department of Justice; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response; and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
Illinois Officials Stress Need for Safety with Transportation of Chemicals
Following a significant anhydrous ammonia release in Lake County, Illinois, State Government officials have stressed the need for safety when transporting chemicals and for motorists driving near such vehicles. Local officials reported more than 30 patients were transported to local hospitals following an incident involving a tractor hauling anhydrous ammonia in Beach Park. A shelter in place order was given to the residents within a one-mile radius of the incident.
Potentially hazardous materials are transported daily on Illinois highways and roads and spring and fall see an increase in traffic as farmers work to apply fertilizer to their fields .The Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association produced an Anhydrous Ammonia Safety Video outlining proper safety procedures that farmers should take when handling these products.  In addition, drivers are asked to use caution, especially when driving near such vehicles.
"This time of year, when farmers are traveling from field to field, it is especially important to keep safety in mind and follow proper protocol when transporting anhydrous ammonia," said John Sullivan, Director, Illinois Department of Agriculture. "It is equally important that motorist be aware and take extra caution around Slow-Moving Vehicles (SMV) and farm equipment that share our roads." 
A hazardous materials accident can occur anywhere and at any time. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is urging first responders and hazmat teams to make continuous training a priority. "The most expensive training, is no training at all," said Acting IEMA Director, Alicia Tate-Nadeau. "Through our partnership with the Illinois Fire Service Institute, various hazardous materials training programs are available to help train first responders on how to respond to, identify and properly mitigate hazardous materials." For counties that have Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), IEMA can provide grant funding that will help cover most of the cost for hazardous materials transportation planning, exercising the plans, and commodity flow studies.
Each year, Illinois officials respond to hundreds of hazardous materials incidents due to the release of oil, hazardous materials or other chemicals as the result of mishandling and traffic accidents. Each incident is responded to, investigated and action is taken to ensure any environmental contamination is removed. Illinois EPA representatives will be onsite to coordinate the environmental clean-up from this release. 
"Illinois EPA's Emergency Response staff have the training and expertise to ensure the responsible parties take the necessary steps to properly remediate impacts to our environment," said Illinois EPA Acting Director John J. Kim. "Because these releases can happen at any time, residents are encouraged to take precautions, drive safely and contact local emergency officials if they have been involved in any release impacting the environment."
If a chemical is improperly released, residents can be exposed through inhalation, skin/eye contact or ingestion. Individuals experiencing symptoms related to a chemical release should seek proper medical attention.
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless gas with pungent, suffocating fumes that is often used as an agricultural fertilizer and industrial refrigerant. When handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be immediately dangerous. As liquid anhydrous ammonia is released from its container into the air, it expands rapidly, forming a large cloud that acts like a heavier-than-air gas for a period of time. Because the vapors hug the ground initially, the chances for humans to be exposed are greater than with other gases. 
Symptoms of anhydrous ammonia exposure include:
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Breathing difficulty, wheezing, or chest pain
  • Pulmonary edema, pink frothy sputum
  • Burns, blisters and frostbite
The best first aid treatment for anhydrous ammonia exposure is to flush skin and eyes with water for at least 15 minutes and seek medical treatment for severe or unusual symptoms as soon as possible. For more information about the dangers of anhydrous ammonia, visit
Tabata USA, Inc. to Pay $30,000 for Non-Compliant Battery Chargers
Tabata USA, Inc. (Tabata) is a Long Beach, California, based company that manufactures underwater vehicles. Tabata sold or offered for sale underwater vehicles in California, from February 2013 to February 2018. This case was the result of an investigation performed by California Energy Commission (Energy Commission) staff. The Energy Commission’s investigation and testing process identified that Tabata was manufacturing and offering for sale underwater vehicles containing a small battery charger system that did not meet the efficiency standard, failed the marking requirement, and were not certified to the Modernized Appliance Efficiency Database System (MAEDbS).
To settle this matter, Tabata executed a Settlement Agreement with the Energy Commission on April 18, 2019, for $30,000.00. The penalty monies are deposited into the Appliance Efficiency Enforcement Subaccount established by SB 454 of 2011 (Pavley). Tabata has also agreed to a compliance plan to remove the non-compliant models from the California market, design a new model that meets the energy efficiency standards, add the appropriate marking, and certify all models to MAEDbS before continuing to sell in California.
Shrewsbury Man Sued for Demolishing Shed Containing Dynamite, Causing Hazardous Chemical Explosion and Fire
A property owner, a realty trust, and an asphalt company have been sued for allegedly causing a dangerous explosion and fire in 2017 that released hazardous material and fumes during the demolition of a storage shed, and for failing to notify authorities or take necessary cleanup actions, Attorney General Maura Healey announced.
The AG’s complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that the defendants – Edgar Muntz, Jr.,393 Oak Street Realty Trust, which Muntz owns and manages, and the Sutton-based contractor P&M Asphalt Services, Inc.— illegally demolished a backyard shed at Muntz’s Shrewsbury property, even though the shed was filled with hundreds of containers of hazardous material, including dynamite, mercury, arsenic, chloroform, and sodium cyanide. During the demolition, the shed burst into flames, releasing the hazardous material into the air and soil. The AG’s Office further alleges that the dangerous release of toxins caused workers and a neighborhood resident to develop respiratory problems.
“The careless and illegal actions of these defendants put the health of workers and nearby neighbors at serious risk – and left the state responsible for the cleanup,” AG Healey said. “We have filed this lawsuit to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to restore this property and keep the public safe.”
After a neighbor alerted authorities about the explosion, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), along with other state and local agencies, responded to the scene and took remedial action to secure the site and clean up the hazardous materials.
“MassDEP expended significant resources to contain and control a release of hazardous materials in a dense residential neighborhood due to the failure to properly remove hundreds of bottles and containers of chemicals and hazardous material before demolishing the backyard shed, putting neighbors and workers at risk to exposure,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg.
The AG’s Office alleges that the defendants violated the Massachusetts Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act and the Massachusetts Hazardous Waste Management Act by causing the release of hazardous material, failing to notify the MassDEP or any emergency response authority, and failing to take any remedial actions to mitigate impacts of the release of hazardous material into the air in a densely populated Shrewsbury neighborhood.
Through this lawsuit, the AG’s Office is seeking substantial civil penalties, damages and an injunction requiring the defendants to comply with state law and to conduct further necessary cleanup actions at the property. The AG’s Office also alleges that the state has the right to recover costs that MassDEP incurred assessing, containing, and removing the hazardous material at the site after the explosion and fire.
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