A California-based water bottler has been fined USD $5 million for illegally storing and transporting hazardous waste created from filtering arsenic out of spring water at its facility near Death Valley National Park.
Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water drew groundwater from the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, which contain naturally-occurring arsenic, said the United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California. It used sand filters back-flushed with a sodium hydroxide solution to reduce arsenic concentration and meet federal drinking water standards, but generated thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater that it first discharged into a manmade pond over 15 years, then later into a sewer system without treatment.
In March 2013, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board took a sample from the arsenic pond and later informed the company that the sample had an arsenic concentration more than eight times the hazardous waste limit, endangering local groundwater and wildlife.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered the arsenic pond shut in 2015. In an attempt to respond to the removal order, the company hired two Los Angeles-area entities to remove the hazardous waste and transport it, “which was done without the proper manifest and without identifying the wastewater as a hazardous material”, according to court documents.
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The arsenic-contaminated wastewater was ultimately transported to a southern California facility not authorized to receive or treat hazardous waste. As a result, more than 23,000 gallons of the wastewater from the arsenic pond was discharged into a sewer without treatment.
The two companies hired to transport and treat the wastewater – United Pumping Services Inc. and United Storm Water Inc., both located in the City of Industry, California, each pleaded guilty on June 10 to four counts of negligently causing a violation of a pretreatment program requirement. On July 29, a court ordered each company to pay a $375,000 criminal fine.
In addition to paying criminal fines, Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water was also sentenced to three years of probation and must implement a compliance program to ensure it complies with state and federal environmental laws.
The company pleaded guilty in early 2020 to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material. The financial penalty imposed by the court on August 5 consisted of a $2.5 million criminal fine for each count.