Storing toxic chemicals like cyanide and hydrochloric acid on site, Electro-Plating Services Inc., a Madison Heights, MI-based company, and its owner/president pleaded guilty in federal court in Detroit to illegally storing hazardous wastes.
Electro-Plating Services, under the direction of Gary Alfred Sayers, knowingly violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, said officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Sayers and his company each pleaded guilty to a felony charge of illegally storing hazardous waste, and will pay the EPA over $1.4 million for the cost incurred cleaning up the plating facility.
Sentencing is scheduled for May 16, at which point Sayers may receive a prison term and/or additional fines.
“Illegal storing of hazardous waste is a danger not only to the environment, but to communities as well,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “The actions by this defendant showed a blatant disregard for the law. It is our hope that prosecutions such as this one will serve as a deterrent to others who seek to serve their own interests rather than the safety of the environment.”
Electro-Plating Services was located at 945 E. 10 Mile Road in Madison Heights. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) first issued the cease-and-desist order in December 2016.
Tracy Kecskemeti, MDEQ district supervisor for southeast Michigan, said the move against the company was highly unusual for the MDEQ.
“We declared an imminent substantial hazard — something we have done only one other time (with an operating business) in the 30-some-year history of our hazardous wastes program,” Kecskemeti previously said. “It’s incredibly uncommon this would happen with an operating business. It’s one thing if it’s an abandoned building — that’s more common, at least occurring every year — but to do this with an operating business is rare. Here, the traditional means for gaining compliance would not work with the owner. We had to get creative and ask what the law allows us in this circumstance.”
The order followed a joint inspection between the Madison Heights Fire Department and the MDEQ in November 2016, when they found an estimated 5,000 containers of hazardous waste, hazardous materials and unknown contents, many of them said to be improperly stored, unlabeled, open and corroded, or in very poor condition. Chemical spills were also found throughout the facility, and chemicals and waste were stockpiled in disarray.
The building itself was severely dilapidated, with blocked exits posing fire hazards to workers, and numerous unsecured entry points leaving the building open to vandals. There was concern at the time, since the building is located within 500 feet of residential neighborhoods and within a one-mile radius of the intersection of interstates 696 and 75, which serves 350,000 vehicles per day. It was also near day cares, schools and senior living facilities.
At the time, there was a risk that the combination of cyanide and hydrochloric acid on-site with large amounts of water could produce a highly toxic cloud of hydrogen cyanide in a high-density area. There were also flammable and combustible materials.
“Hazardous wastes pose serious risks to the health of entire communities, so it’s imperative they be handled and disposed of safely and legally,” said Susan Bodine, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to the protection of public health, and will continue to pursue those who blatantly undermine those efforts.”
Had Their Chance
The defendants had many chances to correct themselves, said Jeffrey Bossert Clark, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Sayers’ knowing, illegal storage of waste cyanide, highly corrosive wastes, toxic chromium waste and reactive wastes posted a significant danger and threat to nearby communities and the environment,” Clark said. “He and his company continued their illegal and poor handling despite many years of warnings by environmental regulators, and they are now being held accountable for their willful refusal to comply with the law.”