BOSTON — A metal-plating company pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally dumping toxic waste into New Bedford's sewage system and was fined more than $1 million, which prosecutors said was the largest criminal fine ever levied for violating federal pollution laws.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the metal wastes could not be treated by the sewage system and ended up in already polluted New Bedford Harbor.
U.S. District Judge Walter Jay Skinner imposed the maximum penalty allowed against USM Corp. and suggested that federal prosecutors might seek charges against company officials.
On the recommendation of the U.S. attorney's office, Skinner suspended $225,000 of the $1.025-million penalty, provided the electroplating and metal-finishing company installs the required pre-treatment equipment by Oct. 3.
Case Breaks New Ground
Acting U.S. Attorney Robert S. Mueller III called the action the nation's first criminal prosecution for violation of the industrial pre-treatment standards contained in the federal Clean Water Act.
Mueller also said it was the largest criminal fine imposed for violating federal environmental laws, although there have been greater civil penalties.
A 41-count federal grand jury indictment returned Nov. 10 charged USM with dumping about 44,000 gallons of untreated waste water daily into New Bedford's sewage system since April, 1985. It said the water included high levels of copper, nickel and zinc.
The indictment also alleged that the company failed to file mandatory compliance reports.