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California firm Electro-Forming ordered to remove hazardous waste

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A judge has ordered a metal plating company in Richmond, Calif., to remove large quantities of hazardous waste, including potentially deadly cyanide, after state officials argued that it poses a health threat to nearby residents.

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Judith Craddick gave Electro-Forming 14 days to dispose of some waste and 30 days for others.

"This company has failed to comply with the rules that protect public health of the neighborhood," said Reed Sato, the chief counsel for state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which sought the order. "The state had to stop this reckless behavior."

The state's action occurred after The Times asked the department and a state legislator last month about long-standing problems with the company's operation.

Department spokeswoman Tamma Adamek said regulators had acted swiftly and appropriately. Representatives from Electro-Forming could not be reached for comment.

In 2012, a former employee at the company told regulators that he had been dumping 55-gallon drums of hazardous waste from the plant down the laundry room sink at the home of the company's owner, according to court papers — an act that would be illegal.

In March of this year, investigators from the toxics department served a search warrant on the company and found a host of problems, including cyanide being stored near highly acidic solutions, which, if accidentally mixed, could form a deadly gas, according to court papers.

In August, state officials filed a civil complaint against Electro-Forming seeking fines and an order prohibiting the company's owner, Marion Patigler, from handling hazardous waste without court approval, among other things. That case has not yet been heard.

Officials sought the restraining order forcing the immediate removal of the dangerous cyanide and other substances this month only after state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) began asking questions in response to inquiries from The Times in October.

"I'm concerned it took so long," said Skinner, who represents the neighborhood around the plant. "This company is a disaster waiting to happen."

Adamek, the agency spokeswoman, said regulators acted on their own initiative. With the rainy season approaching, officials were concerned that a 6,900-gallon tank containing cyanide solution at the facility might overflow during a storm "and then you've got cyanide running in the streets," she said.

State inspectors, accompanied by officials from Contra Costa County and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, visited the site Oct. 30 and "what we saw made us realize we had to act very quickly," Adamek said.

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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