WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Monday filed the first of several expected lawsuits aimed at shutting down toxic waste dumps that failed to meet a Nov. 8 deadline for compliance with environmental regulations.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court against Conservation Chemical Co. of Illinois, seeks up to $25,000 a day in civil penalties against the Gary, Ind., facility. The suit also asks for a court order to force the company to stop treating, storing and disposing of hazardous wastes and to put into effect a government-approved plan for closure of the firm's dump.
Conservation Chemical was one of more than 1,000 dump operators nationwide that failed to meet the deadline for compliance with 4-year-old ground water monitoring and insurance requirements. Those that failed to certify by Nov. 8 were required to stop dumping wastes and file a closure plan with the EPA by Nov. 23.
Inspecting More Dumps
Environmental Protection Agency officials say they expect additional suits as investigations continue. In addition, the EPA is inspecting 30 to 50 dumps suspected of having falsely certified compliance.
"This is just the beginning," an EPA spokesman vowed.
The lawsuit contends that the Indiana dump has had a history of troubles, including a spill last year of at least 500 gallons of cyanide and 10,000 gallons of PCB-contaminated waste oil. The company processed pickle liquor, a hazardous waste derived from steel-finishing operations, to produce a water treatment chemical.
Since 1967, the suit alleges, the firm treated, stored and disposed of such wastes as cyanide, chlorinated and non-chlorinated solvents, laboratory chemicals and substances containing high concentrations of chromium, cadmium, zinc, mercury, arsenic and lead. Some of the wastes stored in drums have leaked, the suit said.
Mile From River
The facility is located in an industrial area bordering the Gary Municipal Airport, about a mile from the Grand Calumet River.
Norman B. Hjersted, the chief stockholder of the company, also was named as a defendant. In a telephone interview from his Kansas office, Hjersted said he was unaware he had been sued, but was not surprised.
"I can assure you they are hot on the trail of this thing," he said.
Hjersted said he did not file the required closure plan because he was waiting to receive additional information from the EPA about a previous closure plan he had submitted. He said he did not install a required ground water monitoring system because monitoring wells already are in place and he did not understand why additional wells are necessary.
'Examine Every Expenditure'
"As a businessman, I examine every expenditure in light of the benefit and its value," Hjersted said.
He said he has shut down the facility, which operated with about 12 employees for 18 years, after failing to obtain insurance and believes the closure eventually will comply with EPA regulations. He said his full-time activity now is "interfacing with the EPA and their attorneys about this closure."
Asked about the possibility of the civil penalties, Hjersted said: "Oh, they do those things like that to scare people."