Waste Company with History of Fines Cited for 72 Landfill Spills It Didn’t Report

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Trucks bring hazardous and nonhazardous material to the Kettleman landfill from all over California, and when accidents happen they are apparently duly noted by the facility’s operator, Chemical Waste Management (CWM).

The waste company, however, doesn’t always share this information with the state and is facing heavy fines for its lack of diligence.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) cited the company for 72 hazardous waste spills between 2008 and 2012 that it stumbled upon during a routine inspection in April. Although the spills were generally small—most less than 5 pounds—the company is required by law to report them to the government, not just record them in its own books. Verbal notification is expected within 24 hours of an incident and written notification is required with 10 days.

The reports, which are critical in assessing safety procedures at the landfill, went missing during a time that environmentalists were questioning the company’s request to expand the facility.  

“It is troubling to me that Chemical Waste Management violated their current permit by not reporting these spills to DTSC, particularly after having been down this road with them a year ago,” said Brian Johnson, DTSC deputy director of enforcement.

The company was cited in May 2011 and fined $46,000 by the DTSC for a similar lack of disclosure after joint inspections by the state agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) turned up unreported releases of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) from February to October 2010.

That fine was small potatoes compared to the EPA smackdown. It fined the company $400,000 and required it to spend $600,000 on bringing the facility into compliance with environmental laws. The EPA said the company’s onsite laboratory was incapable of correctly measuring the toxicity of waste and had cited the company for the same problem in 2005, which it failed to fix.

Like the 72 spills, the PCB incidents were all onsite and not considered a threat to the surrounding community. PCBs, banned since the 1970s, are chemicals once used in electrical equipment that have been linked to cancer. 

The landfill, near the remote farmworker community of Kettleman City just east of Interstate 5 between Fresno and Bakersfield, is the largest hazardous waste landfill west of the Mississippi River. Two of the main routes through town are named Standard Oil Avenue and General Petroleum Avenue.  

Chemical Waste Management disputes the state’s claim that the spills constitute violations of law and says it is negotiating with regulators. Johnson of DTSC told the Associated Press the fine could be $25,000 for each violation.

–Ken Broder    


To Learn More:

California Toxic Landfill Cited for Spills (by Tracie Cone, Associated Press)

DTSC Cracks Down on Kettleman Facility for Failing to Report Hazardous Waste Spills (Department of Toxic Substances Control) (pdf)

$1 Million EPA Enforcement Action Against Kettleman City Hazardous Waste Landfill (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

DTSC Issues Hazardous Waste Enforcement Order to Kettleman Facility (Department of Toxic Substances Control) (pdf)

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