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Environmental Enforcement Roundup: Recycling Fraud, Toledo Sewer Agreement, Fertilizer Waste Violations, Lead Abatement Workshop

Environmental Leader’s daily roundup of key environmental enforcement news:

Bail Set in Calif. Recycling Fraud Action


 A Riverside County Superior Court Judge on Thursday set bail of $300,000  for a local recycling center owner arrested along with two employees last week by special agents with the  California Attorney General’s office for bilking the state’s beverage container recycling program out of $7 million. Bail was set at $30,000 each for the two employees.

“These people pretended to be recycling California aluminum cans when they were really importing tons of cans from Arizona, which are not eligible for California’s recycling refunds,” Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said. “They brazenly defrauded the state’s successful recycling program.”

Howard Leveson, 68, owner of Perris Valley Recycling in Perris, Riverside County; Jose Barragan, 35, the center’s general manager, and Susie Ambriz-Molina, 25, an office worker, were arrested October 12. Leveson was also charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon.

They face a total of 18 felony counts on charges including recycling fraud, grand theft and conspiracy. If convicted of all charges, they could each spend seven years in prison.

Special agents with the California Attorney General’s office, working with the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), conducted the investigation into Perris Valley Recycling with the help of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The Attorney General’s office is prosecuting the case. CalRecycle oversees the state’s beverage container recycling program.

A search of Leveson’s home and business recovered $50,973 in cash and an Uzi assault rifle. In addition, Leveson’s assets and those of his business were frozen, including $4.2 million in bank accounts.

From February 2009 until July 2010, Perris Valley Recycling collected as much as 10,000 pounds per day in aluminum cans, far more than comparable facilities, which average about 500 pounds per day. The unusually high volume indicated the possibility that out-of-state containers were being brought to the facility.

In Arizona, aluminum is sold only for its scrap value. California, however, has the added incentive of the California Refund Value (CRV) deposit, which pays $1.57 for a pound of used aluminum cans.

Investigators estimate Perris Valley Recycling took in 4.4 million pounds of cans trucked from Arizona, then illegally claimed as much as $7 million in reimbursement from the California Beverage Container Recycling Fund.

As a deterrent to such fraud, recycling centers are required to report to CalRecycle purchases of more than 250 pounds of aluminum CRV material. According to investigators, Perris Valley Recycling hid the size of incoming loads by creating multiple weight tickets for trucks coming in with loads larger than 250 pounds, making it appear they were many individuals with smaller loads.

Over the past five months, 20 people have been arrested for making deliveries of out-of-state containers to the Perris center, whose slogan is “It’s Not Trash, It’s Cash.” Perris Valley Recycling remains open, however CalRecycle continues to conduct inspections and has placed restrictions on the center’s reimbursement claims.

In California, consumers pay CRV at the checkout stand when purchasing beverages in bottles or cans. When the empty container is redeemed at one of California’s more than 2,000 recycling centers, the CRV is returned to the consumer. Recycling centers recoup the CRV from the state and then make money by reselling the materials for scrap value. When an out-of-state can or bottle is fraudulently redeemed in California, the program loses money.

Toledo Agrees to Improve Sewer System

The city of Toledo, Ohio, has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer system that will significantly reduce the city’s longstanding sewage overflows into Swan Creek and the Maumee and Ottawa Rivers, the city’s main waterways, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Ohio announced on Friday.

The Clean Water Act settlement lodged Friday  in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, modifies a 2002 agreement between the United States, state of Ohio and city of Toledo. The 2002 agreement required that Toledo greatly expand its treatment plant and build a large storage basin to capture stormwater combined with sewage during high flows for later treatment. The parties understood that although the improvements were important, they were only the first phase of the work needed to bring Toledo into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

 The 2002 agreement also required Toledo to conduct a detailed study of the combined portions of its sewer system and propose a plan of additional measures to eliminate or substantially reduce wet weather discharges from Toledo’s combined sewers. Friday’s agreement requires the city to implement this plan, which both the U.S. EPA and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) have now approved.

Under the amended agreement filed Friday in federal court, Toledo has agreed to expand its sewer system far beyond what it originally proposed to the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA at a cost estimated at more than $315 million. Once the sewer system expansion is fully constructed as required by the amended agreement, Toledo will reduce its discharges of untreated combined sewage from an average of 35 times in a year to an average of zero to four times per year, depending upon the watershed.

The amended agreement relieves Toledo from having to provide additional equipment at its wastewater treatment plant as required by the 2002 agreement

The modified settlement lodged Friday as the First Amendment to Consent Decree in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.

Fertilizer Company Cited for Hazardous Waste Violations

The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 on Friday  filed a civil complaint and issued a compliance order to MagnaGro Corporation, of Lawrence, Kan., for allegedly failing to conduct hazardous waste determinations as required by Kansas regulations and the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

According to EPA, two employees of the agricultural fertilizer company died of asphyxiation on April 1, 2010, while cleaning a storage tank at its facilities in Lawrence, according to autopsy reports. Following the incident, in June and July, EPA staff conducted a compliance inspection of the facilities, and noted several suspected solid and hazardous wastes at the site.

Inspectors issued an official notice of violation and request for information to MagnaGro’s owner, Ray Sawyer, on July 28, but he did not respond. Sawyer likewise did not respond to a September 9 letter of warning and request for information. EPA Region 7 has offered assistance to Sawyer regarding the suspected solid and hazardous wastes on the property, but he has not responded to those offers.

The City of Lawrence shut down operations at MagnaGro on July 21, 2010, after Sawyer failed to address a series of city code violations. The Lawrence Fire Department has also issued citations to Sawyer, requiring him to address safety violations before the facility is allowed to reopen.

EPA’s complaint and compliance order from EPA requires MagnaGro to act within 30 days to provide EPA with an inventory of all drums, totes and other containers at the facility, along with proper waste determinations. It also requires the company to submit to EPA a written plan for immediately shipping all hazardous waste currently located at the facility to an appropriate disposal facility. The plan must be approved by EPA, with disposal of wastes to be completed within 20 days after that approval.

MagnaGro has the right to request an administrative hearing with EPA within 30 days of the compliance order. Failure to provide EPA with a timely response to the order could result in the company being found in default, which would constitute an admission of all facts alleged in the order, and a waiver of rights to a hearing.

Lead-Based Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule Workshop to be held in Jacksonville, FL

Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the Duval County Health Department’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, and Florida State College will be conducting a Compliance Assistance Workshop on the new Renovation, Repair & Painting Rule (RRP) in Jacksonville, Florida on October 27, 2010. The workshop will include discussions on the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Rule, as well as RRP, its training components, and the importance of lead safe work practices.

Because lead-based paint in homes and child occupied facilities built prior to 1978 is the primary cause of childhood lead poisoning, the Lead Safe RRP rule places new requirements on property management companies, landlords, contractors, renovators and painters for lead safe work practices to reduce the lead exposure of children.

WHO: EPA, Duval County Health Department’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, and Florida State College

WHAT: Compliance Assistance Workshop on the new Lead-Based Renovation, Repair & Painting Rule

WHEN: October 27, 2010 from 4:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Florida State College (downtown campus)

Building A, room 1068
101 W Street
Jacksonville, Florida 32202.

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