A small Sun Valley chemical firm has been accused by Fresno County prosecutors of distributing thousands of gallons of worthless automobile antifreeze and coolant that was mostly water.
The Fresno County district attorney last week filed a civil suit against B & P Chemical Industries Inc., whose "Benson" brand antifreeze and coolant has sold "for more than $3 per gallon," but "provides no more protection to the motorist than plain water," state officials said.
A lawsuit filed last Friday in Fresno County Superior Court seeks a temporary restraining order barring the sale of defective antifreeze and requests penalties against B & P that could run to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
B & P President Benson Chan said late Wednesday that he did not know the suit had been filed against his company, which he said he runs himself with occasional help from his son and a part-time worker.
B & P, incorporated late last year, has operated out of two small storage structures leased at 7301 Clybourn Ave., near the northwestern corner of the Burbank Airport.
Chan said he has been trying to recall the antifreeze since last spring, when state officials told him it was substandard, but that some distributors have not cooperated. "We try to recall from them and they do not respond," Chan said.
The lawsuit accuses B & P of unfair competition and false advertising under the state Business and Professions Code, which includes minimum quality specifications for motor fuels and other automotive products.
The specifications for antifreeze call for a maximum water content of 5%, a minimum boiling point of 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and a freezing point of 34 degrees below zero for a 50-50 mixture of antifreeze and water.
According to the lawsuit, the Benson antifreeze "has an average water content of 93.6 percent," boils at a temperature of 213 degrees, and freezes at 27 degrees above zero. The suit said the product also lacks required additives to inhibit corrosion.
Officials of the California Measurement Standards Division said that many samples of the product had a freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit and boiled at 212 degrees, the same as water.
The lawsuit requests a temporary restraining order barring further distribution and sale and asking for penalties of up to $2,500 for each alleged act of unfair competition and false advertising.
Fresno Deputy Dist. Atty. Todd Spangler said the investigation has shown that about 8,000 bottles of Benson antifreeze and coolant have been placed on store shelves and each bottle could be considered a violation.
Discovered in April
Measurement standards officials said they discovered the defective antifreeze in April, when they noticed the brand in a Hawthorne store and tested it, then issued B & P a notice of violation.
Officials said they believed B & P was recalling the antifreeze, but in July and August "it started reappearing in great quantities" in stores in Stockton, Fresno and other areas, according to Floyd Worcester, a program supervisor with the Measurement Standards Division in Sacramento.
Worcester said division inspectors recently began issuing violation notices to retail stores carrying the product and have ordered it off the shelves.
Worcester said there have been some complaints of corrosion from consumers who have used the Benson brand.
Chan said he is trying to comply with state requirements, and stopped distributing the antifreeze last spring after being contacted by state inspectors. He said he believes that distributors who have not returned the product to him may now be trying to clear inventories, which would explain the reappearance on store shelves.
Chan denied that the antifreeze is more than 90% water, and said it contains "many chemical ingredients."