In the toughest enforcement action yet against Orange County industrial polluters, a Brea metal-plating firm was charged Monday with repeated illegal dumping of toxic chemical solutions into sewers and could face up to $266,000 in penalties.
It was the third such action taken jointly by the district attorney's office and the Orange County Sanitation Districts against an industrial discharger and the largest fine ever sought from an alleged county polluter, authorities said.
In a civil complaint filed in Superior Court, Bristol Industries and its president, Frank Claus, were accused of discharging toxic levels of heavy metals over three 24-hour monitoring periods in January and February, including the dumping of 239 times the allowable levels of nickel on Jan. 27.
The electro-plating firm, cited for nine previous discharge violations since 1981, now faces stiff financial penalties for eight counts of violating state hazardous waste disposal laws and 11 counts of violating the districts' discharge requirements.
"This is part of our stepped-up enforcement against industrial polluters," districts' spokeswoman Corinne Clawson said Monday. "We want to let industry know that we do intend to enforce our . . . ordinances."
The agency, which treats sewage for most of urban Orange County, was criticized last fall by a national environmental group for failing to take action against industrial polluters. The group, Citizens for a Better Environment, charged that 50% of the 256 industries processing hazardous chemicals here failed to meet federal discharge standards, according to the districts' own records.
However, agency officials said the reports showed their vigilance in enforcing pre-treatment standards for toxic materials. They also contended that only 10% of the 490 industries hooked up to the sanitation districts' sewer lines pose serious enforcement problems.
Earlier, the district and the district attorney's office filed charges against Orange County Electronics, a manufacturer of printed circuit boards in Orange, and against Aero Tech Plating Inc., an Anaheim metal-plating firm, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Diane Stavenhagen Kadletz. The civil complaints, filed in February, seek more than $100,000 in penalties against each company.
Clawson said Monday that high levels of cadmium, chromium and nickel in acidic solutions like those found in samples from Bristol Industries can disrupt an entire sewage treatment operation by killing microorganisms used to purify the water before it is dumped at sea off Huntington Beach.
The districts' treatment plant was able to remove the toxic metals, she added, because the amounts discharged by the electro-plating firm were relatively small compared to the 230 million gallons of sewage processed daily.
However, Clawson said action was taken against Bristol because the alleged violations were "especially flagrant" in that toxic metals appeared to have been "intentionally dumped" in single batches with no attempt at controls on all three monitoring days.
Asked about the charges, Bristol Industries personnel manager Joan Cole on Monday referred all questions to the company's attorney, William A. Dougherty of Villa Park.
Dougherty, who said he had been retained Monday in the matter, declined comment until he can read through the complaint and talk with company officials.
The firm, less than a mile north of the Brea Mall on Lambert Road, makes metal fasteners for aircraft and defense-related industries, Dougherty said. According to the complaint, the plating facility applies thin coats of metal solutions, acids and alkalai compounds to metal parts.
Dougherty said he did not know how long the firm has operated in Brea, but Clawson said Bristol has had an industrial waste-water discharge permit since February, 1979.
Other Fines Levied
More than $1,100 in fines have been levied against Bristol for nine separate discharges of cadmium and/or chromium in excess of legal limits from November, 1981 through February 18 of this year, Clawson said.
These repeated violations led to a more detailed investigation and surveillance of plant discharges on Jan. 23 and 27 and Feb. 10. Samples were recorded by a monitoring device placed immediately downstream of the facility for separate 24-hour periods, Clawson said.
The highest levels were recorded Jan. 27, when the monitor detected a discharge with 239 times the allowable level of nickel, 44 times the allowable level of cadmium, and 9 times the allowable level of chromium----all in a highly acidic solution, according to the complaint.
Bristol also is charged with the Jan. 23 discharge of 15 times the permitted levels of cadmium and chromium and the Feb. 10 discharge of 16 times the allowed level of cadmium and 12 times the allowed level of chromium.