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Business Owner Pleads Guilty in Laurel, Md. Chlorine Gas Dumping Incident

Release Date: 4/13/2000
Contact Information: Donna Heron (215-814-5113)

Donna Heron, 215-814-5113

GREENBELT, Md. -- A Maryland businessman pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court for an environmental crime related to the dumping and abandonment of nine cylinders of chlorine gas in Laurel, Md.

Richard Fletcher, 46, of College Park, Md., faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine as well as restitution for the environmental cleanup.

Fletcher entered his guilty plea to a criminal violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), for failing to notify federal authorities after abandoning the nine cylinders containing approximately 200 pounds of chlorine gas in a parking lot at the Laurel Commerce Center, 14725-H Baltimore Ave., Laurel, Md.

According to papers filed in federal court, Fletcher stated that on June 11, 1998, after his business was evicted from its warehouse and business premises, he “removed nine steel cylinders or canisters marked ‘chlorine gas’ from the warehouse and dumped them unsecured into the adjacent parking lot.”

Fletcher admitted to knowing at the time that “some of the cylinders contained significant quantities of chlorine gas” and that “chlorine gas was an extremely toxic and hazardous chemical.”


Laurel Md. Businessman Pleads Guilty
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Chlorine gas presents a potentially dangerous public health risk. It can produce in some cases serious intense choking and chest pain, irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory system and it is also a serious fire risk. This is a chemical that must be handled carefully and safety clothing should be worn.

“This enforcement action sends an important message that there is zero tolerance for anyone handling hazardous substances in a careless and cavalier fashion,” said Regional Administrator Bradley Campbell.

The Prince George’s County Fire Department and EPA Region III personnel responded to the incident and secured the canisters until they could be disposed of properly. None of the toxic gas was actually released into the atmosphere.

The investigation was conducted by the EPA Criminal Investigations Division and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard A. Udell.