Company Managers Convicted of Illegally Dumping Untreated Liquid Waste

A federal jury in Detroit this week convicted three former managers of Comprehensive Environmental Solutions Inc. (CESI), a company that operates an industrial waste treatment and disposal facility in Dearborn, Mich., following a three-week jury trial. The company's former general manager was convicted of nine counts, including one conspiracy count, two counts of violating the Clean Water Act (CWA), and six counts of making false statements in connection with illegal discharges of millions of gallons of untreated liquid wastes from the facility. The former plant manager was convicted of conspiracy and a CWA violation. And the former CEO was convicted of one count of negligently bypassing the facility's required pretreatment system, a misdemeanor violation of CWA.

According to the evidence presented during the trial, the company had a permit to treat liquid industrial waste brought to the facility from throughout the Midwest and Canada, through a variety of processes, and then discharge it into the city sanitary sewer system. The facility contained 12 large aboveground tanks capable of holding more than 10 million gallons of liquid industrial wastes. However, during the period of January 2001 to June 2002, facility employees routinely bypassed the facility's treatment system in order to discharge untreated liquid wastes directly into the sanitary sewer system. During most of this time, the facility had no operable equipment to treat incoming liquid wastes and the 10 million-gallon tank farm was full, with virtually no capacity to store additional liquid wastes. Nonetheless, the facility continued to accept more than 16 million gallons of liquid industrial waste-streams for purported treatment and disposal.

Because the facility had no space available for this additional waste, nor equipment to treat it, company employees discharged nearly 13 million gallons of untreated liquid waste into the sanitary sewer in violation of CWA, the facility's permit, and the consent order under which the facility operated. Evidence at trial further showed that the defendants took steps to conceal the lack of treatment from customers and regulatory officials, including city water and sewage department personnel, through false statements and tampering with legally required compliance samples.

"Today's result emphasizes the importance of compliance with laws and regulations designed to protect the environment," said Assistant Attorney General Ronald J. Tenpas, on Tuesday. "Vigorous enforcement ensures that companies in the waste treatment business compete on an even playing field, that industrial customers can be confident that their wastes are being properly handled, and that the public enjoys a safe clean environment."

An additional plant manager pleaded guilty earlier this year to a CWA violation and has not yet been sentenced. In September, CESI pleaded guilty to related charges and agreed to pay a fine of $600,000 plus an additional $150,000 to fund a community service project for the benefit, preservation, and restoration of the environment and ecosystems in the waters adjoining the two nearby rivers. In addition to accepting responsibility for its past misconduct, the company, which is under new management, has taken a number of steps during the last several years to install new equipment and systems to treat liquid industrial waste before it is discharged to the sewer.

As a condition of probation, the company has agreed to abide by the terms of a consent order with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the cleanup of the facility, at an estimated cost of about $1.5 million that includes the proper disposal of the liquid waste previously stored in the facility's tank farm. CESI has further agreed to develop, adopt, implement, and fund an environmental management system/compliance plan at its facility. This will include an annual program to train employees on environmental compliance and ethics, to ensure that all employees understand the requirements imposed by the facility's discharge permit.

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