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6 Companies Charged in Crackdown on Polluters

Times Staff Writer

Misdemeanor charges were filed Monday against six Los Angeles County companies that allegedly released toxic gases, improperly stored gasoline or violated other air-pollution regulations.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Diana Love said a Burbank company was responsible for a toxic gas leak that sent 23 workers scrambling for fresh air and a Compton company was responsible for a leak that sickened scores of students and teachers at an elementary school. Other companies were accused of poorly maintaining service station gas pumps or improperly storing gasoline.

Love said the charges, filed in six Municipal courts, are part of a crackdown on suspected polluters begun 18 months ago by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and Southern California Air Quality Management District.

The crackdown is partially aimed at white-collar managers of industrial companies that violate air-pollution regulations, Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Sorrentino said.

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Tracey Electronics of Burbank and its president, Don Tothe, were charged in the release of chlorine gas at the company’s plant April 18. At the time, Tothe said a machine used to etch electronic circuit boards had mixed improper amounts of sodium chlorate and muriatic acid.

Tracey employees were not affected because a venting system pumped the gas through a rooftop outlet. But outside, the gas flowed into the Barron Anodizing and Paint firm next door, where 23 workers suffered from dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea. Sixteen workers were taken to hospitals and seven were treated at the scene.

Maximum Sentence

Tothe could be sentenced to nine months in jail and fined $11,000 if convicted, Love said. The company could be fined $11,000. Tothe refused to comment on the charges Monday.

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An attorney representing Demenno/Kerdoon, an oil-recycling firm in Compton, refused to comment on similar charges facing that firm.

Sorrentino said excessive heating of lube oil at Demenno/Kerdoon last Feb. 17 created a gas cloud that winds pushed to Jefferson Elementary School nearby. The school’s principal told investigators that the gas “made everyone ill,” Sorrentino said.

Microplate Inc. of Inglewood was charged with operating a chrome-plating tank with a malfunctioning pollution-control system. The 13 misdemeanor counts carry a potential fine of $13,000, Sorrentino said.

Another Inglewood company, Chromeplate, is charged with operating a chrome-plating tank without required safety equipment. Company President William Searight and the firm face $4,000 each in fines, and Searight could be sentenced to one year in jail if convicted.

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Fletcher Oil & Refining in Wilmington and its president, Mark Newgard, are accused of storing oil in large tanks with defective seals. Neighbors complained last May of “caustic odors” coming from the plant, Sorrentino said.

Fletcher Oil and its president could be fined up to $4,000, while Newgard could be sentenced to one year in jail if convicted, Sorrentino said.

Four separate cases were filed against Gary Lazar, president of Alameda Management Co., for allegedly failing to repair faulty nozzles on gasoline pumps that gave off gasoline fumes.

Love said that investigators had placed tags on defective nozzles warning the company not to use them but that the company removed the tags and continued to use the pumps.

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Lazar faces similar charges regarding three P&M; service stations he owns in Carson, Gardena and La Puente. If convicted of all the charges, he could be sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail and fined $30,000. His company faces $28,000 in fines.


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