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Oxnard Metal Recycler Dumped Oil Illegally, Civil Complaint Alleges

October 17, 2002|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

State and local prosecutors have filed a civil complaint against an Oxnard metal recycler, alleging that workers for years had illegally dumped and burned motor oil at the plant perched on the edge of the pristine Ormond Beach wetlands.

The Ventura County district attorney's office and the state attorney general accuse Halaco Engineering of violating California law by adding used motor oil to scrap metal materials that were then run through industrial washers and burned in the company's furnace.

During the washing process, some oil was flushed into settling ponds on Halaco's property, prosecutors allege. Oil also stuck to the materials that were burned, raising concerns about air pollution, they say.

Although prosecutors say the company halted the practice shortly after it was brought to the firm's attention in 2000, they want a permanent injunction barring such disposals.

They also are seeking to fine the company an undetermined amount for its alleged past misconduct.

"Oil is a regulated waste under California law, and you just can't dump it on the ground or burn it in a furnace," Deputy Dist. Atty. Mitchell Disney said.

Los Angeles attorney David Shemano, who is handling a bankruptcy petition filed by Halaco this summer, said the company disputes that there was ever anything illegal or improper about its motor oil disposal.

Still, Shemano said company officials agreed more than two years ago to change practices to avoid a dispute with the district attorney's office. He said Wednesday's action took him by surprise.

"I think it's important to point out that they are not alleging that we are doing anything improper right now," Shemano said. "We are looking forward to working with them to resolve their concerns as quickly as we can."

The civil action, which stemmed from a 1999 inspection by the Oxnard Fire Department, is the latest in a series of regulatory and legal tangles for Halaco.

Earlier this year, the state's Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the metal recycler to stop the soupy discharges that since 1970 have yielded a 40-foot-high slag heap.

The discharges are to end by December, and the slag heap must be removed within 10 years.

The company, which has said it will have to spend more than $1 million to meet the agency's long list of technical requirements, has filed for bankruptcy protection to be able to comply with the water board's order.

Halaco also has been sued by the Environmental Defense Center and the citizens group ChannelKeeper. The lawsuit accuses Halaco of polluting the air and nearby wetlands.

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