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Firm to Set Up Scholarships, Pay Fine in Toxic Fire Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A New York-based chemical company pleaded no contest Tuesday to criminal charges of mishandling hazardous wastes and agreed to pay a $400,000 fine and contribute $350,000 to scholarships at five Los Angeles-area high schools, officials said.

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office filed criminal charges against Grow Group Inc. in 1988, three months after fires in its Commerce plant spewed toxic clouds over Southeast Los Angeles and forced the evacuation of nearly 28,000 residents from Montebello to Monterey Park during the Labor Day weekend.

The company pleaded no contest to one felony count and three misdemeanor counts of violating the California Hazardous Waste Control Act, the district attorney’s office said.

District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the scholarship funds for environmental education at the high schools are unique.

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“As far as we know, this has never been done before,” she said. “Because the money will be put in an annuity, the high schools will receive money in perpetuity.”

The schools that will receive the funds are Montebello High School, Bell Gardens High School, Schurr High School in Montebello, Pioneer High School in Whittier and El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera.

Grow Group President Russell Banks said in a statement Tuesday that the company and its executives were neither admitting nor denying the allegations by settling the charges.

Instead, he said, the settlement was deemed to be “in the best interests of the company, by avoiding the expenses and distraction of a prolonged preliminary hearing and trial and by alleviating the adverse impact the proceedings have had on the company’s operations since September, 1988, when the fires occurred.”

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