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Man Arrested in Dumping of Chemicals

Times Staff Writer

A 47-year-old operator of a dry cleaners was arrested late Wednesday while allegedly dumping a hazardous cleaning solvent in an Irvine park two blocks from his home, authorities said Thursday.

Thomas Ray Morris, owner of Around Town Cleaners in Temple City, also is suspected of illegally dumping cans of the same noxious liquid, perchloroethylene, inside Hoeppner Park on Oct. 15 and again Tuesday night, Irvine Police Sgt. Scott Cade said Thursday.

Perchloroethylene, a liquid solvent used in the dry cleaning industry to remove grease and oil, is required to be disposed of as a hazardous waste. Considered a toxic chemical, it can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin in high concentrations.

Booked in County Jail

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Police said Thursday that there were no injuries reported at the park from exposure to the chemical.

Morris was booked on suspicion of illegally dumping a hazardous chemical and taken to the Orange County Jail, where he was being held in lieu of $10,000 bail, Cade said.

Alarmed by a foul odor at the park and the discovery of the noxious liquid on the park grounds, residents in the surrounding Ranch residential area had been closely watching the neighborhood park near Irvine Center Drive and Jeffrey Road for the past two weeks, Cade said.

At 8:41 p.m. Wednesday, Cade said, an off-duty Orange County law enforcement officer, who lives in the Ranch neighborhood, saw a man pull up to the park and remove a five-gallon can from his trunk.

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The unidentified officer reportedly saw the man walk into the park, toward the rear of surrounding homes, and “start to pour the contents into the ground,” Cade said. He said the officer identified himself as a lawman, ordered the man to stop and “detained Morris.”

Irvine police officers were dispatched to the scene, along with the Orange County Fire Department’s hazardous materials team, the county Health Care Agency’s hazardous waste unit and an investigator for the district attorney’s office. A private toxic waste cleanup firm was called in to remove the materials.

Cade said the cleanup company that disposed of the chemical dumped Oct. 15 estimated their cost at $1,000 for that removal.

Cade added that the investigation is continuing.

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