A harbor-area scrap metal business that allegedly accumulated "mountains" of hazardous waste has been charged with 31 violations of state health and safety laws.
Hugo Neu-Proler Co., a firm that processes scrap metals for resale overseas, was charged Monday in Los Angeles Municipal Court with illegal storage of 32,000 tons of material containing hazardous waste. The Los Angeles city attorney's office claims that the company kept automobile-shredder waste containing hazardous levels of PCBs and lead at its Terminal Island site at least three months longer than California law permits.
"We're talking about a significant amount of hazardous waste--gigantic piles that looked like mountains," said Deputy City Atty. Steven R. Tekosky. "You had to see it to believe it. It was like you were in the middle of mountain ranges and you could have an avalanche of hazardous waste at any time. . . . Whenever you're talking about such massive quantities of hazardous waste, it's very serious."
The company also has been accused of transporting its hazardous waste in vehicles not licensed for such activity and without the state-required records that track exactly where waste is generated, who collects it and where it is dumped.
In addition, officials have charged that at least nine trucks carrying Hugo Neu-Proler's hazardous waste unloaded about 100 tons of it at an unauthorized location.
If the company is convicted of the alleged misdemeanors, it could face maximum fines, calculated per day of violation, totaling more than $13 million. As the charges are written, no jail sentence could be imposed because no individuals are named, but Tekosky said he is evaluating the possibility of amending the complaint to include several Hugo Neu-Proler officials.
Hugo Neu-Proler attorney Benjamin E. King said this week he could not comment specifically on the complaint because he had not reviewed it, but he maintained that the auto-shredder waste the company handles is not hazardous.
Auto-shredder waste is considered hazardous under California law but not under federal laws.
"We contend that the residue is not toxic at all," said King, who declined to elaborate on why the company believes its waste is not hazardous. "We're claiming that our residue has met state standards and we anticipate pleading innocent."
King said the company has shipped all its waste to Arizona and Nevada--where auto-shredding remains are not classified as hazardous--and is no longer using its shredding facilities, which were a major portion of its operations. Only piles of scrap metal remain at the site, he said.
The auto-shredding business, which operated for about 25 years until the company closed it in November after a Health Department inspection, extracted marketable metals from junked cars for shipment to overseas mills that melt down the metal to make new products. The metals, mostly steel, were salvaged after cars were chopped up in a giant shredding machine. The hazardous wastes were contained in unsalvaged auto materials. Forty of 100 employees were laid off when the shredder was shut down in November and about 20 of them have not been rehired.
The company, which King said is a joint venture between Hugo Neu Corp. of New York and Proler Steel Corp. of Houston, is one of about five auto shredders in Southern California. State health officials said some of the other companies also may be cited for violations.
Health officials said they notified Hugo Neu-Proler in March, 1984, of their classification of auto-shredder wastes as hazardous after they determined that the waste contained hazardous levels of soluble lead, which can be poisonous if inhaled or ingested. At that time, the state agency told the company that it would inspect its facility for compliance with California laws that regulate the storage and disposal of hazardous waste.
State laws limit hazardous-waste storage to 90 days for industries that generate the waste but do not have a permit to operate as hazardous-waste storage facilities. Hugo Neu-Proler does not have such a permit.
During an inspection in September, 1984, health officials said they found mounds about 75 feet high and 100 feet long of auto-shredder waste that had been stored since before the March notification.
Jim McNally, manager of inspections and investigations for the state agency, said that after the inspection Hugo Neu-Proler in November attempted to dispose of some of the waste in Mexico, but was unable to do so. The trucks carrying the waste then went to an unlicensed facility in San Diego County, where county health officials reported them to the state Health Department.
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