A Glendora metal-plating firm was fined $27,200 last week after the company pleaded no contest to 10 misdemeanor counts of dumping toxic materials into county sewers.
Plato Products Inc., already under fire from parents who fear that its emissions might endanger children at an adjacent elementary school, was ordered Wednesday by a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge to pay the maximum penalty for each violation of county waste-water laws.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Diana Bell, who prosecuted the case, originally had filed a 20-count complaint against the company and four of its officers. However, she agreed to drop 10 of the counts against the firm and all charges against the individuals after Plato agreed to enter the no contest plea, which is tantamount to a guilty plea but not admissible in certain types of subsequent civil litigation.
The charges stemmed from a six-month investigation by the county Sanitation Districts that found the company was discharging metal-contaminated waste water in concentrations two to three times greater than permitted under county law.
"It makes the point very clearly that there is in fact a toxics problem next to the school," Jeff Schenkel, a longtime critic of the plant, which is next to the Arma J. Shull School just across the Glendora boundary in San Dimas.
"I think the action in court is really a major victory," he said.
Officials for the company, located on a one-acre site at 2120 Allen Ave., could not be reached for comment.
Samples taken from inside the plant and from a sewer outside the building showed that the company was discharging water contaminated with chromium, copper and nickel, said Scott Austin, a project engineer for the Sanitation Districts.
Chromium, for example, which is permitted in concentrations of up to 10 parts per million, was found at levels of 20 to 30 parts per million, Austin said.
Although such concentrations alone are not considered a direct hazard, he said, water from the sewers leads to the ocean and large quantities of the waste can pose a threat to marine life and humans.
Municipal Court Judge David Doi ordered the company to pay the maximum penalty of $1,000 for each of the 10 violations. He also fined Plato $7,000 in additional penalties and $10,200 in restitution to the Sanitation Districts for the cost of the investigation.
Led by Schenkel, a 65-member Concerned Citizens Committee made up of San Dimas parents has fought to close the Plato plant since the company moved there from El Monte in 1984.
At first, the group claimed that fumes emitted from the plant were making schoolchildren sick.
Although tests by the South Coast Air Quality Management District found no evidence that toxic fumes were being released, the district did order Plato to upgrade its air pollution control equipment, said Martin Kay, supervising air quality engineer for the agency.
Additionally, Plato agreed voluntarily to improve several warning mechanisms designed to help mitigate the chance of an accident, Kay said.
Meanwhile, the citizens group persisted and with the support of San Dimas city officials convinced the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to begin an investigation in November, 1985.
Although Shull School officials said there have been no complaints recently about the factory, Schenkel has pledged to keep fighting to shut down the Plato plant.
"The message is clear that we have a dangerous problem there next to the school," said Schenkel, who has two children attending Shull. "When it comes to toxic substances, any amount is too much."