A Northern California metal-plating business and its owner were charged Thursday with felony violations of state hazardous waste laws, including storing cyanide near acid in a way that could have triggered a deadly accident.
Electro-Forming Co. and Marion Ingrid Patigler face 11 felony counts and 12 misdemeanor charges related to the alleged illegal disposal, storage, treatment and transportation of hazardous waste.
The alleged crimes — which include storing cyanide and other toxic substances in an unpermitted, 6,900-gallon tank at the Richmond site — occurred over a two-year period beginning in March 2011, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Contra Costa County district attorney's office.
An arrest warrant was issued for Patigler, who could not be reached for comment. Calls to the company also went unanswered. In December, her lawyer denied some of the same allegations, which were contained in a civil complaint filed by the state last year.
"The reckless behavior of this company and its owner warrants a tough enforcement response," said Reed Sato, chief counsel for the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. The agency worked with Contra Costa County officials to bring the charges.
Electro-Forming's lengthy history of alleged environmental violations was highlighted in a Los Angeles Times story in December that also detailed the state agency's slow response in dealing with industrial polluters.
The Times reported that it took California officials years to begin a study of pollution that stemmed from a 1992 nitric acid leak at the Richmond plant that sent dozens of residents to the hospital.
The current criminal case began last March, when investigators responding to a tip searched the site and discovered cyanide near acid, according to the civil complaint. Had the two substances mixed, a deadly gas could have formed.
In August, state officials sought to bar Patigler from handling or disposing of hazardous waste without court approval. Three months later they secured an order forcing the removal of the cyanide.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who represents the neighborhood near the plant, said she was happy that criminal charges had been filed but dismayed that it had taken so long.
"It's really dangerous circumstances," she said.