Agents for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies this week conducted a surprise search of Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical offices as part of a months-long probe into whether the airplane manufacturer has been illegally dumping heavy metals and acid into city sewers.
The search of Teledyne Ryan’s plant at 2701 Harbor Drive took 10 hours Tuesday and involved about 40 agents of the Hazardous Waste Task Force, a group of 15 federal, state and local agencies charged with enforcing environmental-protection laws.
Teledyne Ryan spokesman Jack Broward confirmed Thursday that the agents combed the firm’s industrial paint section and manufacturing processes laboratory after serving the company with a federal search warrant at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
The searchers, led by FBI agents, took samples of waste water and chemicals at the plant, and impounded the firm’s “comprehensive files on environmental protection activities,” including records of what the company was putting into the sewers, said Broward.
FBI spokesman Jim Bolenbach said Thursday that the samples and records were seized as part of an investigation begun last March, when city sewer officials contacted the task force to report troublesome discharges coming from Teledyne.
‘Don’t Know What We Have’
“It has to do with allegations of possible dumping of heavy metals and acids into the sewer system,” Bolenbach said. “We don’t know yet what we have.”
Bolenbach and Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Vega declined to provide more details about the Teledyne Ryan investigation Thursday, since affidavits supporting this week’s surprise search are still sealed and won’t be made public for about two weeks.
But a city sewer official said Thursday that the firm became a target of the inquiry nearly nine months ago when his employees conducted routine samplings and first detected heavy metals in excess of what the company is allowed by law to discharge from its Harbor Drive plant.
The amounts of the metals and patterns of the discharges led city officials to suspect that the dumping was not accidental, he said.
“There was enough to indicate that there were problems outside of simple negligence,” said Rod Rippel, manager of the industrial waste division of the city Water Utilities Department.
Rippel said his division, which is responsible for monitoring 1,200 industrial firms using the sewers of the San Diego region, normally uses a “cooperative” approach when it finds that a company has dumped excess metals such as chromium, nickel, copper, zinc and cadmium into the sewers.
That’s because most of the dumping, he said, results from “negligence"--a valve that is accidentally opened or a faulty design that results in excess releases in the sewers of heavy metals such as chromium, nickel, copper, zinc and cadmium.
In the case of Teledyne Ryan, however, Rippel said the city went directly to the task force, which began the inquiry and put the FBI and the San Diego County district attorney’s office in charge. Rippel’s division continued to take samples of Teledyne Ryan’s waste water for the task force.
“We went with some suspicions and the task force assumed responsibility for the investigation,” said Rippel.
Asked if the company intentionally dumped heavy metals and acids into the sewers, Teledyne Ryan’s Broward said: “Absolutely not.”
The Latest Blemish
“The position we take is that we are in full compliance of all regulatory agencies,” said Broward. “We’re cooperative in all measures required of us. Teledyne Ryan, in its 66th anniversary year in San Diego, considers itself a good citizen in response to community problems and community employment.”
The suspected dumping of heavy metals and acids by Teledyne Ryan is unlikely to damage the city’s sewage system or the environment, Rippel added.
“Only about 5% of our entire waste-water flow is from industries, and the ability of any one company to impact the system is almost negligible,” he said.
This week’s raid is the latest blemish on the pollution record of the bayside aeronautical and defense firm.
In April, the regional Water Quality Control Board fined the company $75,000 for discharging cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which have been used in transformers and capacitors, into storm drains leading into Convair Lagoon, situated near Lindbergh Field on the east end of Harbor Island. In assessing the fine, the water board found that the PCBs washed into the drains 58 times during rainstorms between March 1985 and mid-December 1987.
In 1987, the federal Environmental Protection Agency levied a $48,000 fine against Teledyne Ryan after it determined the company had mishandled the PCBs at its Harbor Drive plant.
Company officials have maintained that they are cooperating with environmental agencies, and they have agreed to pay $100,000 a year for the next three years to help a state study of the San Diego Bay. Teledyne Ryan also initiated a $1-million program to replace the transformers in its plant that use PCBs.
The company makes the Firebee aerial target system for the military, and is under contract to build the fuselage for the Army’s Apache helicopter.