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Executive Gets Prison Term in Pollution Case

December 16, 1993|FRANK CLIFFORD | TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

In a landmark case brought by American and Mexican authorities, a Southern California corporate executive has been sentenced to prison for illegally transporting hazardous waste to Mexico for disposal.

Morris Kirk, president of Alco Pacific was sentenced to 16 months in state prison this week and his now-defunct firm was fined $2.5 million for illegally shipping lead waste and storing it on Alco Pacific property several miles southeast of Tijuana. Authorities said it has not been determined where Kirk will serve his sentence.

James M. Strock, the head of the state's Environmental Protection Agency, described the case as "the most significant joint American/Mexican environmental prosecution in our history." Strock said Tuesday that it "sends an unmistakable message to polluters that environmental laws cannot be evaded simply by crossing the border."

"Environmental threats in Mexico are also threats to California--and we will continue to build on our working relationships with Mexico to get the job done," he added.

Kirk, 63, pleaded no contest to three felony charges of dispatching hundreds of truckloads of lead waste to Mexico between 1988 and 1991. Kirk's firm was engaged in recycling automobile batteries. Authorities said the company, which had plants in Gardena, Costa Mesa and Ojo de Agua, Mexico, abandoned its Mexican smelting operation and declared companywide bankruptcy in January, 1991.

Jeremy Bush, Kirk's lawyer, had no comment when called at his office Wednesday.

David Eng, the Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who directed the investigation, said the Kirk case was the first time that the United States and Mexico worked together to clean up a toxic waste site.

In June, a related settlement with a corporate co-defendant, RSR Industries of Dallas and its City of Industry subsidiary, Quemetco, called for setting aside $2 million for the Mexican government to clean up an estimated 31 million pounds of lead slag lying in uncovered piles on the Alco Pacific property near Ojo de Agua.

Quemetco, the nation's second-largest recycler of automobile batteries, had contracted with Kirk's firm to take and dispose of lead waste it had produced.

According to Eng, fires have burned uncontrollably at the site as a result of the chemical reaction of lead waste, water and other metals. Cows at a neighboring dairy farm have died from drinking polluted water that drained off the property, he said, and residents of Ojo de Agua have reported cases of skin and respiratory diseases.

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