Guided partly by allegations contained in the diary of a worker killed at a Long Beach petroleum recycling plant, state health officials Thursday shut down the facility's hazardous waste operations.
Charging that the company had violated numerous health and safety laws, officials from the state Department of Health Services ordered the recycling plant, Facet Energy Inc., to stop handling hazardous waste and to remove all the waste it has stored.
The shutdown order comes amid an extensive investigation of Facet Energy by the district attorney's office and several other government agencies.
Although state health officials said they initiated an investigation of the company last June, the broader inquiry was prompted in late February by claims made in a dead worker's informal diary that Facet Energy illegally managed the waste oil it recycles, much of which is considered hazardous waste.
"This is a facility that we're alleging is operating in a way that is an endangerment to public safety and the environment," said Angelo Bellomo, chief of the state agency's Southern California Toxic Substances Control Division.
Health officials would not comment in detail on the alleged Facet Energy violations until the full investigation is completed, but they alleged that the company had, among other things, illegally operated a hazardous waste facility and unlawfully dumped toxic waste.
"The health department has turned up enough violations to close the facility, but we're still investigating the possibilities for prosecution," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Barry C. Groveman, head of the Environmental Crimes Division.
Facet Energy general manager John Webster would not comment on the closure of the hazardous waste operations or the state agency's allegations.
State officials said Thursday's shutdown resulted from several inspections of the facility, including two conducted after the death of Jose B. Lopez on Feb. 21.
Lopez, 57, drowned in a tank of dirty motor oil, according to a coroner's report. He was found in a waste oil storage tank after an explosion in the petroleum recycling plant, but no one saw him entering or falling into the tank, investigators said.
While officials are investigating how Lopez ended up in the tank of waste oil and how the explosion occurred for potential safety violations, they are also reviewing the victim's diary.
Claims made in Lopez's diary were decribed in an affidavit filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court and were used by authorities to obtain a warrant for an April 1 search of Facet Energy. During the search, authorities seized business records and soil and petroleum waste samples.
Lopez asserted in his diary that Facet Energy permitted the drainage of waste materials into the soil and into Long Beach sewers. He also said, among other things, that Facet Energy and Rutherford-Pacific, a company related through ownership to Facet Energy, hauled highly combustible materials that were labeled as used oil or diesel oil to avoid filing state-required documents that track the disposal of hazardous waste.
"Material in the diaries gave us insight about the facility that we previously did not have," said Jim McNally, manager of investigations and inspections for the Toxic Substances Control Division.