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Illegal Discharges Cost Times $30,000


COSTA MESA — State water quality officials have leveled a $30,000 fine against the Los Angeles Times for discharging water contaminated with chemicals into storm drains in three separate incidents at its Orange County plant since November, officials said Thursday.

"We feel very strongly there was negligence, not so much with management but with L.A. Times personnel, and the L.A. Times is responsible for its employees," said Bruce Paine, an engineering associate for the state Regional Water Quality Control Board.

At the same time, Paine added, it was found that none of the illegal discharges caused major damage to water quality or the storm drain system.

Paine said the amount of the fine is in a "middle-of-the-road" range, compared to those generally issued about six or eight times a year to Orange County businesses accused of violating the law.

Ernie Vitucci, general manager of The Times Orange County Edition, said he received word of the fine in a telephone conversation with a state water quality inspector. The newspaper, however, has yet to receive formal notification.

"After three spills in a fairly limited amount of time, a fine seems appropriate," Vitucci said. Times officials said they probably will not contest the fine at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 13 before the Water Quality Control Board.

The most recent incident came last week when more than 500 gallons of chilled water containing a non-hazardous solution of corrosion inhibitor--used to cool the plant's main computers--was discharged into storm drains at the plant. Workers drained the water to make way for construction in an apparently mistaken belief that the solution could be dumped in the storm drain. Under state law, however, nothing but rainwater can be directed into a storm drain.

In recent months, The Times has been undergoing a major renovation of its Costa Mesa facility.

In investigating the incident, Orange County and state inspectors learned of a similar incident last Nov. 27 when chilled, contaminated water also spilled into the storm drains at the plant, on Sunflower Avenue just east of Harbor Boulevard.

In the third incident, water containing a relatively small amount of developing fluid, used to make newspaper printing plates, drained into the storm channels for 35 days before being discovered by Times officials in December. The spill occurred because a pipe was improperly connected to the storm drain instead of a sewer drain, officials said.

Vitucci said drainage of the chilled water planned for Monday will be closely monitored.

In 1988, the newspaper was fined $5,000 for an incident in which contaminated water spilled into the storm drains.

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