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U.S. Attorney Filed a One-Count Information Charging the CITY OF ROANOKE for RCRA Violations

Release Date: 1/11/2000
Contact Information: Patricia A. Grisetti (540) 857-2250

Patricia A. Grisetti (540) 857-2250

United States Attorney Robert P. Crouch, Jr., announced today that the United States had filed a one-count Information charging the CITY OF ROANOKE with storing hazardous waste without a permit from 1994 to 1998 in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). ROANOKE will plead guilty and be sentenced January 12, 2000 at 12:00 noon.

ROANOKE and the United States have entered into a plea agreement which calls for ROANOKE to be sentenced to pay a $125,000 fine, be placed on probation for three years and be required to develop and implement a comprehensive environmental management system, including performance of environmental audits at certain City facilities, and to spend $475,000 on environmentally related projects. These projects include (1) conducting environmental education seminars for municipal and county officials from across the state, (2) conducting household hazardous waste collection programs, and (3) installing a “green way” along a mile of Tinker Creek in Roanoke. Terms of the plea agreement, including the agreed sentence, must be approved and accepted by the Court.

The maximum statutory sentence for the charge against ROANOKE is a maximum fine of $500,000 or $50,000 per day of violation, whichever is greater, and five years probation.

The charges and guilty plea resulted from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division in Arlington, Virginia, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The investigation involved waste handling practices at ROANOKE’s Public Works Service Center and other locations. The investigation began when the DEQ and EPA received information in the summer of 1997 alleging that drums containing hazardous waste had been buried at the PWSC facility at 1802 Courtland Road in Roanoke. ROANOKE’s Fleet Maintenance, Streets and Traffic, and Solid Waste departments have been located at the PWSC since the 1970s.

Inspections in July, 1997, and later by DEQ personnel discovered that drums of hazardous waste had been stored improperly at various locations, including the PWSC and a Parks and Recreation facility on Reserve Avenue, for long periods of time. Some of the drums had been in storage for more than five years. None were properly labeled as hazardous waste. In some cases, the drums carried no information concerning contents. ROANOKE eventually properly disposed of approximately 50 drums of hazardous waste discovered at various municipal locations.

In December, 1997, and May, 1998, ROANOKE excavated undeveloped areas at the PWSC. The first excavation unearthed 43 drums, seven of which contained oil-based traffic paint. ROANOKE had used such paint until 1991. The excavation also uncovered soil contaminated with toluene, a solvent found in the oil-based paint. The remaining drums contained an asphalt patch material. The second excavation uncovered approximately 1100 crushed, empty drums and 15 drums which contained oil-based paint similar to that found in the first dig. The paint is regulated as hazardous waste because it contained solvents which ignite at low temperatures and contained elevated levels of lead and other metals.

During the investigation, investigators and prosecutors from the United States Attorney’s Office and EPA Region III’s Office of Regional Counsel in Philadelphia, Pa., conducted more than 90 interviews of current and former City employees and reviewed thousands of pages of municipal records involving events of the past 20 years. That investigation revealed the following:

ROANOKE failed to develop an environmental compliance program for the Public Works Department and other municipal departments, leaving employees untrained in environmental requirements.
PWSC employees routinely cleaned the equipment used to apply the oil-based paint to roadways by pumping solvent through the equipment and then spraying the waste paint and solvent on the ground at the PWSC until ROANOKE switched to water-based paint in 1991.

ROANOKE formed a Risk Management Office in 1990 to advise City managers on safety and environmental issues, but did not hire anyone with specific environmental training until 1998.

In late 1990 and 1991, the Risk Management Office inventoried waste materials at the PWSC and elsewhere and shipped numerous drums of hazardous waste off site for proper disposal.

In January, 1992, the Risk Management Office informed managers that management of waste material was their responsibility and offered assistance in disposing of such material. The Risk Management Office also said it would institute a program to inspect and monitor storage programs in individual departments.

The Risk Management Office never instituted an inspection and monitoring program to ensure that waste material was handled properly. ROANOKE did not provide department managers or employees with training or guidance regarding environmental requirements until after the 1997 drum excavation.

The Risk Management Office hired a safety/environmental specialist in 1995 but did not inform him his job description also included environmental responsibilities.

Employees working in the garage area of the PWSC often disposed of waste chemicals such as antifreeze, brake cleaners and solvents by putting them into a metal trench in the garage which led to a manhole connected to the municipal sewer system. ROANOKE’s sewage treatment plant prohibited the discharge of antifreeze into the sewer system. Employees also put these materials into a garage drain leading to an underground storage tank intended to be used solely for waste oil destined for recycling.

After the criminal investigation began, ROANOKE cleaned out the oil/water separator and properly disposed of its contents as hazardous waste.

The approximately 1100 crushed drums unearthed in May, 1998, appear to be ones collected by municipal workers after the 1985 flood. City workers buried the drums rather than transporting them to a solid waste landfill.

At an unknown time, City workers buried the drums containing asphaltic patching material and oil-based paint rather than dispose of them properly.

In the mid-1990s, a City worker uncovered a drum of paint while burying tree debris at the direction of a City manager. He reported this to the manager and reburied the drum. The manager reported the discovery to the Risk Management Office. No further action was taken.

In response to a citizen complaint, DEQ inspected the PWSC and discovered that ROANOKE had been improperly labeling and storing drums of hazardous waste outside the PWSC for more than a year. In response to that inspection, ROANOKE shipped 33 drums of hazardous waste off site for proper disposal, including 28 drums of oil-based traffic paint.

DEQ and ROANOKE subsequently discovered additional drums of hazardous waste, some of which had been improperly labeled and stored at various City locations for more than five years.

Any remedial action required to be taken because of the drum burial or other disposal activities or monetary penalties for such activities are subject to the jurisdiction of the DEQ, which has been working with ROANOKE concerning remediation actions.

Assistant United States Attorney Jennie L. M. Waering and Special Assistant United States Attorney Martin Harrell, who is with the EPA Regional Counsel’s Office for Region III, Philadelphia, Pa., will prosecute the case.