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Reports Detail Case Against Western Waste

March 22, 1987|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Hazardous waste was routinely dumped illegally into San Gabriel Valley landfills by a Carson trash hauling company for convenience and to save money, reports filed by the district attorney's office in Los Angeles Municipal Court allege.

The reports detail evidence that led to the filing of criminal charges last week against a vice president and two dispatchers for Western Waste Industries for allegedly transporting and dumping toxic materials illegally.

Former and current employees told investigators that hazardous waste would be picked up from other companies and if the loads exceeded the legal weight limit, the excess would be dumped at the company's waste transfer station in Carson.

The trucks would then proceed to licensed hazardous waste dumps north of Santa Barbara or to Kettleman Hills in Kings County without the risk of being cited for overweight violations, the reports said.

Western Waste is licensed to pick up and haul hazardous waste, but no Los Angeles County landfill is licensed to receive it.

The employees told investigators that the excess hazardous waste dumped at the Carson transfer station would be buried under household trash and loaded onto large-capacity trash trucks destined for Puente Hills landfill near Hacienda Heights, the BKK landfill in West Covina, and the Scholl Canyon landfill near Glendale.

The hazardous substances were chromium, nickel and perchloroethylene (PCE), a substance used in dry cleaning, according to Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner.

When the charges were filed on Tuesday, Reiner called the materials "extremely hazardous," but said there was no immediate health risk. He said the risk would come if the material eventually seeped into ground water.

Those charged along with the company were Hacob (Jake) Shirvanian, vice president in charge of hazardous waste operations, and two dispatchers, Hovsep Shadarevian and Dennis Kautz. If convicted, the employees could be sentenced to state prison and the company could be fined as much as $50,000 for each day of illegal dumping.

John Lynch, who heads the district attorney's environmental crimes section, said 10 to 15 people have gone to jail in Los Angeles County for illegally disposing of hazardous materials but none of the cases involved a hauler as large as Western Waste.

Allegations 'Surprising'

The allegations are "a little surprising given the size of Western Waste," Lynch said. Typically, he said, haulers who are caught dumping waste illegally will plead that it was an isolated mistake or claim to be baffled by complex hazardous waste regulations.

But in this case, the company is accused of deliberately disposing of hazardous materials as part of its business routine, and Shirvanian is a former member of the state Waste Management Board.

Western Waste is a large, publicly traded company that does nearly $100 million in business a year, according to the company's attorney, Richard Haft. It operates in five states and has 1,000 employees.

Haft said the company has hired an attorney to represent it in the criminal proceedings but has not had time to review the charges in detail.

"We're going to defend our interests," he said, and added that the company has a 30-year history of impeccable behavior.

Investigative reports and search warrant documents filed in court show that the case began in February, 1986, when the district attorney's office took statements from two fired Western Waste employees, Carroll Nicholson and his son, David.

The elder Nicholson told investigators that he managed the company's Compton yard until October, 1985, when he was blamed for an incident in which a load of hazardous waste was mistakenly sent to the Puente Hills landfill, which billed Western Waste for the cost of cleaning it up. Nicholson said he continued working at Western Waste as an owner/operator of a trash transfer truck until he was fired in January, 1986, shortly after his son, a truck driver, was fired. David Nicholson said he was fired for refusing to take a leaking, odorous load of gas filters from an oil company to a dump in Santa Barbara County.

The reports show that investigators developed the case through interviews with other current and former employees, examination of records, tests of hazardous materials and videotaping of disposal activities.

Drivers said hazardous liquids were sometimes dumped in the street to lighten loads, and that hazardous waste records were altered. On one occasion, drivers said, a hazardous waste load was dumped at BKK by mistake and in order to straighten out the paperwork, a non-hazardous load was shipped as hazardous waste to Casmalia Resources, a Santa Barbara County landfill.

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