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2 Escondido Firms Face EPA Fines for Dumping

Times Staff Writer

Two Escondido electronics firms face fines of $125,000 each because they consistently dump waste water into the city’s sewer system with excessive levels of copper, lead and alkalinity, the federal Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

Both firms, which manufacture printed circuit boards, have a month to seek hearings on the findings and to negotiate a possible settlement, said EPA spokeswoman Carrie Frieber in San Francisco.

Furthermore, the city of Escondido itself faces action by the EPA because it had primary responsibility for locally enforcing the waste-water discharge regulations and failed to do so, Frieber said.

A third company, in Rancho Bernardo, was also cited by the EPA for a one-day accidental discharge of sodium hydroxide into sewers. That company, Northern Telecom Electronics, could be fined $20,000 for the incident.

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‘Not Life-Threatening’

The two Escondido firms, Hebdon Electronics and Action Printed Circuits, are guilty of not properly treating waste water after it is used in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards, Frieber said.

The discharges, she said, “were not life-threatening. They won’t kill fish or people.” But the EPA moved against them, she said, because of its new emphasis on monitoring the chemical treatment of industrial water discharge to neutralize toxic chemicals contained in it.

“It came to our attention that Escondido had a problem with the number of violations that these two companies had. We sent out our own inspectors, and these two particular companies stood out in the quantity of their violations,” Frieber said. “They’re relatively small companies, but they were out of compliance more than they were in.”

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Executives at Hebdon Electronics did not return phone calls.

An executive for Action Printed Circuits characterized the problem as one of not being in technical compliance with EPA guidelines, but said it was not a situation of gross negligence.

Working Closely With City

Harry Sundblad, vice president of Action Instruments, of which Action Printed Circuits is a division, said the violations were not unlike “going 57 m.p.h. in a 55 zone.”

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“If this were a gross violation, they would have shut us down,” he said. “We’re working very closely with the city, and, whatever is required to maintain the standards of our permit, we will do.

“It appears that the EPA is taking a tough line on the technical meaning of its parameters. They had not informed us of this prior to our receiving a certified letter notifying us of the violation. They’re taking a very tight position on their guidelines, and they made sure we’ll pay attention.”

George Lohnes, the utilities engineer for the city of Escondido, said the EPA’s action was based on monitoring by Escondido, which itself had not moved to enforce the guidelines.

“We were working with these people,” Lohnes said. “They apparently don’t have their pre-treatment processes totally in yet, and our people weren’t pressing them that hard until they got them in.”

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He said Escondido was not specifically concerned by the discharges because the metals in question were not exceeding acceptable limits in the city’s sewage sludge.

“That’s not a good answer, though, and we should be doing (enforcement), and we will be doing it now,” he said.

Dan Dierken, director of plant services for Northern Telecom, said the EPA action against his company stemmed from an April 29 accidental discharge of 3,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide, used in the manufacture of semiconductors for the company’s digital telecommunications switching systems.

The discharge, caused by a wrongly placed valve, went into an Escondido waste-water treatment plant, where it temporarily affected sewage treatment because the chemical neutralized the organisms used to decompose waste material.

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The EPA’s Frieber said her agency is ready to resolve the problem with the two Escondido firms.


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