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Refinery Charged in Toxic Dumping

September 21, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles city attorney has filed 109 charges of environmental law violations against a Wilmington refinery for allegedly dumping harmful chemicals into a storm drain, officials said Monday.

Praxair's alleged discharges of nickel, zinc and residual chlorine into storm drains violated the requirements of a permit issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board to limit chemical dumping, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said.

The drains flow into the Dominguez Channel, which empties into the ocean. Many of the alleged violations occurred during one large spill of contaminated water.

"Industrial polluters that contaminate our water systems threaten the health and safety of the children in some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods," Delgadillo said in a statement released by his office.

The discharges allegedly came from Praxair's Wilmington facility, where the firm produces liquefied natural gas products. The company, which did not return calls for comment, uses cryogenic air separation technology to produce oxygen, nitrogen and argon.

The state board referred the case to Delgadillo, and the complaint filed with the court Friday alleges 109 misdemeanors from August 2002 through April.

In the biggest discharge, which occurred two years ago, 12,000 gallons of water containing copper, lead, zinc and nickel were allegedly spilled after equipment became overtaxed, said Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the city attorney.

Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $25,000. Arraignment has been set for Nov. 5 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

"Industrial polluters will not be tolerated," said Francine Diamond, chairwoman of the water quality board. "Today's enforcement action is a victory for the residents of Wilmington and for everyone who cares about public health and the environment."

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