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MWD, County Settle in Chemical Dumping Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Metropolitan Water District donated $250,000 Friday to the UCI Medical Center burn unit in a compromise agreement that criminal charges against MWD and four of its top administrators be dropped, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

The check was delivered to hospital officials Friday morning at North Orange County Municipal Court in Fullerton, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Kirkpatrick said.

In return, the district attorney’s office dropped criminal charges that MWD--the world’s largest water supplier and one of the most influential political forces in Southern California--dumped a caustic chemical in a state park that resulted in the injury of several cyclists in October, 1989.

The case is believed to be the first in the nation in which a public agency was charged with a felony under water-pollution laws.

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The compromise “was mutually agreed-upon disposition by all parties,” said Kirkpatrick, who was the lead prosecutor on the case.

The settlement is one of the largest payments made in an Orange County environmental case. Officials said that the district attorney’s office suggested the donation to the burn unit because, in addition to its going to help people, it is fitting action since the cyclists suffered burns because of the chemical.

“This is the best result for all concerned,” said MWD’s attorney, Marshall Schulman. The alternative--going to trial--would have incurred costs “far in excess of the civil compromise.”

Between Oct. 26 and 28, 1989, at least 466 gallons of extremely concentrated sodium hydroxide was discharged from the MWD Diemer filtration plant in Yorba Linda into Telegraph Creek, which runs through Chino Hills State Park.

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Three days later, six men riding mountain bikes through the park splashed through the liquid on a bike trail. The men suffered second-degree chemical burns, and their clothing and bikes were damaged by the corrosive chemical.

None of the injuries were serious; the MWD paid several thousand dollars to the cyclists to cover their medical costs and equipment losses.


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