header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather


 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
June 23
1946, 11:20pm: William S. Hart, 81, dies at L.A.'s California Lutheran Hospital, leaving his Newhall estate and his (now West) Hollywood home to the public [story]
Hart dies


| Monday, Aug 5, 2019
An explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. facility in Santa Paula injured more than three dozen people on Nov. 18, 2014. | Photo: KTLA.
An explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. facility in Santa Paula injured more than three dozen people on Nov. 18, 2014. | Photo: KTLA.

 

A grand jury in Ventura County has alleged that hazardous materials from a wastewater treatment facility in Santa Paula were trailered to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Val Verde, according to a federal agency that investigated an explosion at the facility in 2014.

Los Angeles County officials who oversee the Chiquita Landfill said they relied on reports showing the material was non-hazardous — reports provided by the wastewater company, whose employees pleaded guilty to falsifying reports — and did not conduct an independent investigation.

Santa Clara Waste Water Company of Santa Paula and its parent company were found guilty June 6, 2019, of eight felonies and misdemeanors relating to the explosion and its toxic aftermath. The 78-count indictment was handed down by the Ventura County grand jury in 2015.

Among other violations, the grand jury alleged that “SCWWC also disposed of hazardous waste via (1) a wastewater pipeline to the City of Oxnard’s sewage plant, and (2) trailers to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. Neither was approved for the disposal of hazardous waste,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General, among the multiple agencies that investigated the case.

The indictment also charged nine company officials and employees with a variety of state felony and misdemeanor charges related to the explosion and SCWWC’s disposal of hazardous waste. Their cases are now nearing resolution in Ventura County Superior Court. The ninth and final co-defendant’s trial is set to begin August 16, while final sentencing in the two corporate plea agreements is slated for August 23, according to an email from Dominic Kardum, Supervising Deputy District Attorney for Special Prosecutions in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.

A plea resolution should provide nearly $3.6 million for victims of the explosion, according to California Department of Justice and Ventura County officials.

As to the waste that was allegedly shipped to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill: What type of trailers did SCWWC use? How many trailers were used? Over what period of time? Was the shipped waste hazardous? And if so, who knew about it?

Chiquita Canyon Landfill sign

The Santa Paula Explosion

On Nov. 18, 2014, at approximately 3:45 a.m., a massive explosion occurred at 815 Mission Rock Road in Santa Paula, a wastewater treatment facility owned and operated by SCWWC and its parent company, Green Compass Environmental Solutions LLC, according to court records.

The initial blast caused more than 1,000 gallons of chemicals to spill, which resulted in a fire that set off a chain reaction of explosions involving other hazardous materials.

Authorities ordered mandatory evacuations for everyone within a mile of the facility as toxic chemical residue from the explosion spread on the ground and into the atmosphere. Shelter-in-place orders were issued for everyone within a 3-mile radius, and a local elementary school and Highway 126 were closed.

Dozens of people were examined and treated at local hospitals for exposure to the toxic vapors. Two SCWWC employees and three Santa Paula firefighters who responded to the blast were hurt. The firefighters entered SCWWC without any special protection after being told it was only a sewage explosion. All three firefighters went out on disability leave and their fire engine was a total loss.

An explosion at the Santa Clarita Waste Water Co. facility in Santa Paula injured more than three dozen people on Nov. 18, 2014. | Photo: KTLA.

An explosion at the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. facility in Santa Paula injured more than three dozen people on Nov. 18, 2014. | Photo: KTLA.

Multi-Agency Investigation

A nine-month investigation into the explosion and its aftermath was conducted by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, the Ventura County Environmental Health Department, the Ventura County Fire Department, the California Department of Justice’s Fraud and Special Prosecution Section, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, and the aforementioned USDOT Inspector General.

State and federal authorities joined Ventura County in the probe because SCWWC parent Green Compass also operates facilities in Orange and Kern counties and conducts waste disposal services in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Investigators ultimately determined that early in the morning prior to the Santa Paula explosion, company employees were engaging in an overnight “cleanup” effort. The explosion occurred when hazardous materials were sucked from approximately 20 individual unlabeled chemical totes into a vacuum cargo tank trailer that was not rated to hold or transport chemicals.

One year after the explosion, a search warrant served on SCWWC also led to the discovery of approximately 5,500 gallons of sodium hydroxide, aka Petromax, stored in a locked shipping container. Corporate officials had not reported possessing these chemicals to the California Environmental Reporting System, as legally required, since 2013.

Further, investigators found that SCWWC was storing more hazardous materials than permitted in its inventory and alleged that company officials directed employees to transfer hazardous materials to an unsecured truck lot off-site prior to a Defense Logistics Agency contractor’s scheduled inspection of the facility, which would have revealed the excess waste.

The Prosecution: Indictments & Convictions

The 78 charges against SCWWC, Green Compass and the nine executives and managers in the grand jury indictment of August 19, 2015, included a variety of felonies and misdemeanors. Among them were conspiracy to dispose of hazardous waste; failure to warn of a serious concealed danger; handling a hazardous waste with a reckless disregard for human life; withholding information regarding a substantial danger to public safety; filing a false or forged instrument; and dissuading a witness.

Ventura City Hall, 501 Poli Street, Ventura, California (Ventura Historic Landmark No. 4). | Photo: Cbl62/WMC 4.0.

Ventura City Hall, 501 Poli Street, Ventura, California (Ventura Historic Landmark No. 4). | Photo: Cbl62/WMC 4.0.

The nine individuals indicted were Douglas Edwards, chairman of the board; William Mitzel, chief executive officer; Charles Mundy, vice president of environmental health, safety and facility operations; Dean Michael Poe, vice president of oil and gas sales; Brock Gustin William Baker, operations manager; Marlene Faltemier, human resources manager; David Wirsing, transportation manager; Mark Avila, supervisor; and Kenneth Griffin, shift supervisor.

Following the Petromax raid in 2015, SCWWC sued Ventura County in an ultimately failed attempt to have the chemical designated as non-hazardous, meaning the company remained liable for its mismanagement.

On June 6, 2019, the corporate defendants Green Compass Environmental Solutions LLC and Santa Clara Waste Water Co. pleaded “no contest” to eight crimes, including four felonies and four misdemeanors.

The felonies were conspiracy to impede an environmental enforcement officials; knowing failure to warn of a serious concealed danger, specifically sodium chloride; filing a false or forged instrument for recording in public office; and dissuading a witness from reporting a crime.

The misdemeanors included: impeding an environment enforcement official; failure to update the hazardous materials business plan; failure to update the hazardous materials inventory; and submission of false records or statements to the California Environmental Reporting System.

As a result of their pleas, Green Compass and SCWWC will be ordered to pay $2,797,621 in restitution, on top of $800,000 in restitution previously paid by other convicted co-defendants, for a total amount of court-ordered victim restitution of $3,597,621.

The plea deal was the result of the joint prosecution by the California Department of Justice and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office. The August 23 sentencing hearing for the two corporate defendants in Ventura County Superior Court is set for Courtroom 33.

As to the maximum penalties Green Compass and SCWWC face: “Penalties are determined by the sentencing court who will make those orders on (or about) August 23,” said Dominic Kardum, the supervising deputy district attorney, who declined further comment until after the sentencing.

To date, eight of the nine individually charged co-defendants have entered pleas. The final co-defendant whose trial begins August 16 is Marlene Faltemier.

An aerial view of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill on May 20, 2010. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

An aerial view of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill on May 20, 2010. | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Chiquita Hazardous Waste Disposal: Who Knew?

Dean Michael Poe, one of the nine co-defendants, pleaded guilty March 24, 2017, to one felony count of conspiracy to commit the crime of disposal of hazardous waste. The plea agreement was  made with Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten.

According to court documents, investigators had found that in June 2014, Poe provided samples from SCWWC to BC Labs, a local environmental laboratory, for chemical analysis. A month later, BC Labs sales representative Alin Repede told Poe the chemical analysis proved the waste samples were indeed hazardous.

However, Poe failed to take any corrective action at SCWWC and did not report the information to regulatory authorities.

Poe, who surrendered to Ventura County authorities in August 2015 — but not before a sheriff’s SWAT team raid prompted him to sue the county — was sentenced to four months in custody followed by 36 months’ probation, along with a $5,000 fine and victim restitution in an amount determined by the court.

While on probation, Poe was barred from employment in several capacities, including collecting lab samples to be used for waste testing and transporting hazardous waste.

When asked by email if Poe had or may have had anything to do with shipping tractor-trailers of waste, hazardous or not, from SCWWC facilities to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill, Kardum declined to elaborate on the felony disposition statement in the 2017 plea deal. “I am unable to comment further as the information you’re seeking relates to evidence and issues in a pending case before the Ventura County Superior Court,” he said.

“Prosecution of the other defendants is still ongoing,” Nathan Richmond wrote in an email. Richmond is director and counsel for Congressional and External Affairs, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation. He also said he could not comment further until the case was over.

LA County, Chiquita Officials Say No Hazardous Waste Sent to Landfill

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County officials disputed the assertion that hazardous materials were dumped in the local landfill, although they said they relied on Santa Clara Waste Water Company manifests and did not conduct an independent investigation of the discarded materials.

Steven Frasher, L.A. County Public Works’ community engagement liaison and public information officer, said his agency was unable to immediately determine if, or how many, cargo tank trailers of “goopy” hazardous waste, as he described it, may have been shipped from SCWWC to Chiquita Canyon. “The trailers are cargo tank tractor-trailers typically used to carry substances with high liquid content,” he said in an email.

“From what I understand, it’s all in a big stack of manifests that would be very time-consuming to put together, and certainly couldn’t be put together in this (short) deadline frame,” Frasher said, referring to the shipping manifests that waste shippers are legally required to complete, either declaring the waste is hazardous or certifying that it’s not.

“It’s a legal affidavit and to the extent that Public Works receives it, (the shipper) has stated that what’s in the shipment is in line with what the landfill can receive,” he said, adding that the county’s Public Health Department is the local enforcement agency.

“Public Works did not make an independent determination that the waste was not hazardous,” Frasher said in his email. “Public Works reviewed records demonstrating that SCWWC provided Non-Hazardous Waste Manifests for the material that it disposed (of) at Chiquita Canyon Landfill indicating the content of the material and that it was Non-Hazardous, in accordance with the landfill’s regulatory requirements.”

Tony Bell, communications deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, wrote in an email: “I’m told by (LA County) Public Works that the materials sent to Chiquita were soil, drilling muds, drilling cuttings and tank bottoms from the Santa Clara Waste Water Company that were not deemed to be hazardous, and were disposed at the landfill.” The Chiquita Canyon Landfill lies within Barger’s fifth supervisorial district.

An aerial view of the Chiquita Canyon landfill west of Santa Clarita on June 14, 2018. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

An aerial view of the Chiquita Canyon landfill on June 14, 2018. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

“These materials were not prohibited by (LA County’s) Conditional Use Permit or state regulation,” Bell said. “After this incident, the landfill no longer received materials from the SCWWC.”

“We are unaware of any findings from the DOT/OIG investigation involving the Santa Clara Waste Water Company,” said John Musella, spokesman for Chiquita Canyon Landfill, in response to an SCVNews email query that included links to the news releases from the federal and Ventura County officials alleging, among other things, the transport of hazardous materials to Chiquita.

Asked how many trailers Chiquita may have received from SCWWC, or how Chiquita determined any waste accepted from SCWWC was not hazardous, Musella said, “Chiquita Canyon only accepts non-hazardous solid waste for disposal,” not liquid.

“There are extensive government regulations and oversight to ensure the proper acceptance of waste materials at solid waste disposal facilities, including Chiquita Canyon,” he said.

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

No Comments

    Leave a Comment


    SCV NewsBreak
    LOCAL NEWS HEADLINES
    Friday, Jun 21, 2024
    Supes Urge Newsom Not to Cut L.A. County Inmate Firefighting Crews
    Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Board of Supervisors Chair Lindsey Horvath have sent an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to continue funding the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations hand crews who currently help the Los Angeles County Fire Department tackle wildland fires.
    Friday, Jun 21, 2024
    Santa Clarita Now Accepting Project Proposals for Make A Difference Day
    The city of Santa Clarita invites local schools and nonprofits to submit a proposal outlining a project that can benefit from volunteer support as part of Make A Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 26.
    Friday, Jun 21, 2024
    June 25: City Council Meets on Open Space, Budget, Town Center Specific Plan
    The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a regular meeting on Tuesday, June 25 at 6 p.m. that includes a host of issues including assessments, taxes, fees and budgets in addition to continued hearings on the Town Center Specific Plan.
    Keep Up With Our Facebook

    Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
    1946, 11:20pm: William S. Hart, 81, dies at L.A.'s California Lutheran Hospital, leaving his Newhall estate and his (now West) Hollywood home to the public [story]
    Hart dies
    1972 - Vasquez Rocks added to National Register of Historic Places [list]
    Vasquez Rocks
    Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Board of Supervisors Chair Lindsey Horvath have sent an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to continue funding the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations hand crews who currently help the Los Angeles County Fire Department tackle wildland fires.
    Supes Urge Newsom Not to Cut L.A. County Inmate Firefighting Crews
    Give the gift of life, an upcoming blood drive is scheduled for Friday, June 28, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at The Centre, 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita, CA 91350. The blood drive will be held in Cedar Hall.
    June 28: City Hosts Blood Drive at The Centre
    The city of Santa Clarita invites local schools and nonprofits to submit a proposal outlining a project that can benefit from volunteer support as part of Make A Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 26.
    Santa Clarita Now Accepting Project Proposals for Make A Difference Day
    The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a regular meeting on Tuesday, June 25 at 6 p.m. that includes a host of issues including assessments, taxes, fees and budgets in addition to continued hearings on the Town Center Specific Plan.
    June 25: City Council Meets on Open Space, Budget, Town Center Specific Plan
    Part of the Summer Theatre Festival by Santa Clarita Shakespeare, "An Evening of Absurdity" will run July 12-21 at the MAIN, 24266 Main Street., Newhall, CA 91321.
    The MAIN Presents ‘An Evening of Absurdity’
    The city of Santa Clarita has issued a traffic advisory for daytime lane closures at Copper Hill and Rio Norte Drive beginning Monday, June 24.
    June 24: Traffic Advisory Lane Closures Copper Hill/Rio Norte Drive
    Santa Clarita will celebrate this year's Fourth of July with the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary Club's pancake breakfast, Santa Clarita Valley Parade Committee's Fourth of July Parade and city of Santa Clarita fireworks show.
    Fourth of July Events in Santa Clarita
    The California Department of Public Health is warning consumers not to eat, sell or serve any flavor of Diamond Shruumz brand chocolate bars, cones and gummies, which contain a proprietary mushroom blend. These products, known as microdose products, have led to multiple illnesses and hospitalizations in 16 states, including at least one poisoning in California.
    California Public Health Warns Consumers About Diamond Shruumz Products
    The Cube – Ice and Entertainment Center, Powered by FivePoint Valencia, will hold the inaugural Girls and Women’s Three-on-Three Hockey Tournament on Saturday, June 22.
    June 22: The Cube Hosts Inaugural Girls, Women’s Hockey Tourney
    Join Santa Clarita's oldest and largest running event, the 40th annual Independence Day Classic, Thursday July 4, from 7 a.m.- 10 a.m. at Newhall Memorial Park, 24933 Newhall Ave., Newhall, CA 91321.
    July 4: Independence Day Classic
    A special meeting of the William S. Hart Union High School District’s Governing Board will be held Wednesday, June 26, beginning at 8 a.m.
    June 26: Hart District Governing Board Special Meeting
    The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reports that the fast moving Post Fire that broke out in Gorman on Saturday, June 15 around 1:47 p.m. has reached 15,690 acres and is now 61% contained. This latest CAL FIRE update was issued at 7:44 a.m. on Friday, June 21.
    Post Fire 61 Percent Contained, Pyramid Lake Remains Closed
    For die-hard "The Love Boat" fans, the ultimate cruise experience just dropped anchor. Princess Cruises, which is headquartered in Santa Clarita, has announced an exclusive VIP package for its Love Boat themed cruise Aug. 32-Sept. 7 that promises intimate, up-close interactions with the show's beloved characters: Doc, Gopher, Isaac and Vicki Stubing.
    Princess Cruises Offers ‘The Love Boat’ Celebration Cruise
    The Valley Industry Association will host VIA Cocktails & Conversation: An Evening with CA State Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo on Wednesday, July 10.
    July 10: Cocktails & Conversation with Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo
    1941 - Ernie Hickson buys out Trem Carr's interest in their Monogram movie ranch, renames it "Placeritos" (later called Melody) [story]
    Ernie Hickson
    The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reports that the fast moving Post Fire that broke out in Gorman on Saturday, June 15 around 1:47 p.m. has reached 15,690 acres and is now 24% contained. This latest CAL FIRE update was issued at 7 a.m. on Thursday.
    Post Fire 47 Percent Contained, Reported 15,690 Acres
    The Santa Clarita Arts Commission will hold a study session Thursday, June 27, at 6 p.m., in the Carl Boyer Room at City Hall.
    June 27: Arts Commission Study Session
    Katherine Dyer has signed her national letter of intent to continue her swimming career at The Master's University.
    Katherine Dyer Commits to TMU Swim Program
    Every summer, Santa Clarita’s very own Central Park, located at 27150 Bouquet Canyon Road, transforms into a premiere venue for live musical performances where friends, families and neighbors come together to sing and dance the night away.
    Jason Gibbs | Get Ready for Concerts in the Park Summer Soundtrack
    California State University, Northridge's Trey Knight, Chase Mars and David Phillips, Jr. will compete at the 2024 United States Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. beginning June 27.
    Several Matadors Qualify for 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials
    SCVNews.com