Landfill operator indicted on multiple felonies
A federal grand jury in Honolulu returned a 13-count indictment on Wednesday charging Waste Management of Hawaii; Joseph R. Whelan, WMH's General Manager and a vice president of WMH; and Justin H. Lottig, WMH's environmental protection manager, with multiple felonies, including knowing violations of the Clean Water Act, conspiracy and making false statements to the Hawaii Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Justice Department.
The charges stem from alleged illegal discharges of contaminated storm water from the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill into Hawaii’s coastal waters after heavy rainfalls in December 2010 and January 2011.
Waste Management of Hawaii was permitted to discharge storm water from the landfill to the Pacific Ocean under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit issued by the Hawaii Department of Health Clean Water Branch.
The storm water was required to go through the landfill's storm water management system to ensure that it did not come into contact with waste in the landfill before being discharged to Hawaii’s coastal waters.
The permit prohibited Waste Management of Hawaii from causing or contributing to a violation of Hawaii’s state water quality standards.
The indictment alleges that from April 19, 2010 until Dec. 23, 2010, Waste Management of Hawaii's Environmental Protection Manager Lottig conspired with employees from an environmental consulting firm to submit false and outdated information to the health department in June, August and September 2010.
The purpose of the conspiracy was to convince health officials that the landfill had an adequate storm water management system in place in order to renew its storm water discharge permit.
The indictment also alleges that from Oct. 27 to Dec. 23, 2010, Lottig and Waste Management of Hawaii violated the permit by knowingly failing to inform health officials of material changes in the storm water management system that would have alerted the health department that an inadequate system was in place.
On Dec. 19, 2010, a heavy rainstorm struck Oahu, and Cell E6, which contained millions of pounds of waste including raw sewage, sewage sludge and medical waste, was flooded with millions of gallons of storm water from up canyon.
The indictment alleges that from December 20 to 23, Waste Management of Hawaii pumped millions of gallons of contaminated storm water from Cell E6 into coastal waters near the Ko Olina Resort.
The indictment alleges that on December 20 and 23, Lottig falsely stated to health inspectors that any storm water being discharged from the landfill had not come into contact with waste from Cell E6.
On the evening of Jan. 12, 2011, another heavy rainstorm struck Oahu. The indictment alleges that unbeknownst to health officials, Whelan and Waste Management of Hawaii caused the discharge of millions of gallons of contaminated storm water to the coastal waters near the Ko Olina beach resort for several hours that evening and/or into the morning of January 13 without authorization from the health department.
The pollutants included large amounts of medical waste, including blood vials, syringes and catheters, raw sewage and sewage sludge. The indictment alleges that on Jan. 13 and 20, 2011, an engineer from Waste Management of Hawaii falsely stated to health inspectors that the manhole which the company used for the unauthorized discharges had been closed when, in fact, he knew that it had been left open to serve as an overflow drain.
The indictment also alleges that Whelan and Waste Management of Hawaii submitted false material statements and concealed material information in written submissions to health officials on April 21, 2011 and to the EPA on Aug. 1, 2011.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
Waste Management of Hawaii released the following statement:
"We understand that an indictment has been returned in the U.S. District Court in Honolulu naming Waste Management of Hawaii and two employees as defendants. We believe there is no basis for these charges by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and we intend to vigorously defend against this extraordinary action. Safety, ethics and environmental protection are core beliefs of our business at Waste Management and we operate our facilities with the utmost regard for the health and safety of employees, neighbors and the environment."
“The City and County of Honolulu will continue to cooperate with the parties in their investigation of the 2010 and 2011 floods of the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill and the discharge of waste into the ocean resulting from the 2011 flood," said city Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina. "Corrective measures have been taken to protect against such an event recurring, and the City is satisfied with the ongoing operations of the landfill. As the matter is in litigation, the City has no further comment.”
If convicted, Waste Management of Hawaii faces a maximum criminal fine of $500,000 for each count. If convicted of the count charging failing to inform the health department of material changes in the storm water diversion system, Waste Management of Hawaii faces a maximum fine of $50,000 per day of the alleged violation.
If convicted, Lottig faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count of conspiracy and for each count of making a false statement to the health department; a maximum of three years for failing to inform health officials of material changes in the storm water diversion system plus a fine of $50,000 per day of the alleged violation; a maximum of two years for each count of providing false information to the health department; and a maximum of three years for each count of illegal discharges in violation of the Clean Water Act.
If convicted, Lottig also faces a maximum criminal fine of $250,000 for each count.
If convicted, Whelan faces a maximum sentence of three years for each count alleging illegal discharges in violation of the Clean Water Act and a maximum of two years for each count of making false statements to the health deparmtnet and EPA; and a maximum criminal fine of $250,000 for each count.
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