DOWNEY — State and county officials are investigating a Firestone Boulevard car dealership that they suspect of dumping hazardous liquids onto the ground behind its auto service building in violation of state law.
Employees of Nowling Oldsmobile were ordered by the state Department of Fish and Game last week to stop dumping liquids, said game warden Louise Fiorillo, who examined the site for the investigation. The Department of Fish and Game investigates dumping that could harm wildlife.
Dealership owner Russell Nowling was not available for comment, service manager Judy McDonald said.
Asked if the dealership had dumped oil and radiator fluid, McDonald said, "I'm not aware of it. I will check with my technicians."
Funnel Attached to Pipe
Several feet of pipe extend from the rear of the transmission and lube area of the repair shop onto a dirt parcel north of Burns Avenue. A black funnel is attached to the end of the pipe inside the shop. Several gullies pass under a fence and into the dirt lot from a work area to the side of the service building.
As Downey Fire Marshal William Sumner and Police Chief Pete Stone viewed the site Thursday, a small amount of liquid ran from the pipe, and a rusty stream coursed through one of the gullies. There was a yellow-green puddle to one side. What appeared to be freshly dumped dirt covered three areas behind the dealership.
Sumner said contamination of ground water was the greatest potential hazard that could result from the apparent dumping.
County health officials said they probably will inspect the site early this week. Engine and transmission oil and antifreeze are considered low-level hazardous waste, a county health department spokesman said. Most automotive fluids are recycled.
"It should be recycled," said Patrick O'Donnell, a county hazardous waste specialist. "Nothing should be dumped on the ground . . . it could end up in our ground water."
A municipal water well is about 150 yards from the pipe, but there has been no evidence of contamination, according to city officials.
Downey officials closed four municipal wells last year after tests detected unacceptably high levels of industrial contaminants in the water. Downey draws much of its water from the Central Basin, a huge underground body of water that also supplies wells in other southeast Los Angeles cities. The source of the contamination that forced closure of the wells has not been pinpointed.
A resident in a nearby trailer park said he inadvertently discovered the liquid behind the dealership early last week after his dog returned from a run.
"It was all the way up his legs, oil, just gook," Mark St. Julien said. St. Julien told Downey activist Lennie Whittington, who alerted authorities.
The county Department of Health Services will investigate the dumping in conjunction with the state Department of Fish and Game, and possibly other agencies, officials said.
Illegal dumping could be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on how toxic the waste is, how much was dumped and other factors, county hazardous waste specialist Walter Uroff said.
Illegal dumping of low-level waste such as oil would probably constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $1,000 to $25,000 for each day the violation occurred, he said.
Other charges would depend on the level of contamination and the effect on plants and animals in the area, said Fiorillo, the game warden.
"They're looking at the whole circle of charges," she said. "We're going to have to sink a well to see how long this has been going on."