Dumper of Deadly Cyanide Pleads Guilty
SAN DIEGO—Raul Antonio Gonzalez Lopez pleaded guilty today to the Illegal Disposal of Hazardous Waste before United States Magistrate Judge Mitchell D. Dembin. In pleading guilty, Gonzalez Lopez admitted that on March 12, 2011, he drove to We Lend More, a business located in National City, California, to pick up trash. As he was aware, the trash included containers of acid and potassium cyanide. Gonzalez Lopez further admitted that on March 13, 2011, he dumped the trash from We Lend More at the Miramar Landfill, including containers of nitric acid and potassium cyanide (federally regulated hazardous wastes). The Miramar Landfill does not possess a permit that would allow it to accept federally regulated hazardous waste for disposal.
According to court documents, Joe Lowry, Chief Scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised that when combined, potassium cyanide and acids produce a deadly hydrogen cyanide gas. One breath of pure hydrogen cyanide gas would be enough to kill a person, and 50 parts per million (ppm) of hydrogen cyanide is the level that has been determined to be immediately dangerous to life or health. Lowry viewed the evidence from the case and prepared a dispersion model showing the threat area where the concentration of hydrogen cyanide is greater than or equal to 50 ppm, assuming a wind of 3 mph. The zone extends approximately 71 yards from the initial point of combination, and anyone within 30 yards when the chemicals combined could have been killed instantly.
In February of 2011, We Lend More and its owner, Marc Vogel, were convicted of aiding and abetting the illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste, following a jury trial. The evidence adduced at trial indicated that the acid (in a breakable glass bottle) and cyanide (in aged plastic containers) were disposed of together in the same cardboard box, which was dumped at the landfill. Because the landfill operators use heavy equipment on a regular basis to compact the face of the landfill, such activity would be expected to cause the containers to break and the chemicals (in the same box) to combine, posing grave risk to the landfill operator and anyone else within 30 yards (such as other landfill personnel or customers).
Gonzalez Lopez was arrested on January 14, 2014, in Mexico and extradited to the United States to face these charges. On July 16, 2014, Gonzalez Lopez appeared in court in San Diego.
- Raul Antonio Gonzalez Lopez
- Age: 55
- Tijuana, Mexico
- Unlawful Disposal of Hazardous Waste– Title 42, U.S.C., Section 6928(d)
- Maximum penalty: Five years in prison and $250,000 fine
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Bureau of Investigation