We spend quite a bit of time on this blog talking about regulatory enforcement. From our experience and a quick search of DTSC enforcement actions and fines it is clear that many companies are simply operating out of compliance with governmental hazardous waste requirements. Whether it is out of ignorance of the law, or simply overworked and under-trained staffs, companies are left exposed in an environment where the state is aggressively pursuing violators. We wanted to take a moment to look at a real world enforcement case and review the impact to the company.
In an article reported by the Riverside Press Enterprise on August 20, 2013, AFS, Incorporated doing business as Ironman Parts and Services in Corona, California agreed to pay $45,000 in a court-approved settlement with the State of California and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The complaint stems from an investigation that began on February 11, 2010.
As part of this investigation, DTSC coordinated with Waste Management, the municipal trash hauler to pick up and secure two (2) three yard dumpsters from the company. The dumpsters were picked up from the company’s location and secured and locked. Members of the DTSC enforcement team then examined the dumpsters and found dirty filters and bags of dust from products manufactured by Ironman. DTSC then sampled the contents and found zinc, chromium, copper and nickel in levels exceeding the regulatory threshold.
The DTSC repeated this process on July 19, 2010, by securing Ironman’s dumpsters, once again with assistance from Waste Management. They performed sample tests once again finding levels of zinc, chromium, antimony and nickel in levels exceeding the regulatory threshold. As a result of this investigation, DTSC believed that it had enough evidence to bring legal action against Ironman Parts and Services for violations of state hazardous waste requirements, beginning three years of legal headaches, attorney fees, and negative publicity.
You can download and view a copy of the court documents (Complaint and Settlement) which help establish a timeline HERE.
While it is not explicitly laid out in the complaint, one can reasonably assume that Ironman was unaware that DTSC had secured its dumpsters for the means of a regulatory inspection. As it says, DTSC coordinated with Waste Management and not Ironman. It is also interesting to note that the substance in question, dust is not something that one would immediately consider to be associated with hazardous waste. While we cannot be sure, the company may have been throwing items away that they did not consider was subject to hazardous waste regulation and thus thought they were in compliance. This is a costly mistake that companies make. Unfortunately for Ironman, ignorance is not a defense in a suit with DTSC, nor will it be with you.
It is important, particularly in the state of California that companies stay on top of hazardous waste regulations and DTSC enforcement activities. This can be a challenge for small businesses with a limited workforce. This is why it is important to work with licensed and experienced hazardous waste companies operating in California that are up-to-date on DTSC regulations. An experienced hazardous waste company can potentially save you money on your operations and keep you in compliance, shielding you from stiff regulatory fines, legal fees and other financial headaches that result from violating hazardous waste laws.
We will leave you with one final question for today. If the regulators show up on your doorstep today: What is in your dumpsters? If you are unsure, contact a hazardous waste disposal company to check out your operations.