Waste Disposer Gets Jail Term for Dumping Toxic Mix of Chemicals in Public Landfill
SAN DIEGO—Raul Antonio Gonzalez Lopez was sentenced to seven months in custody by United States District Court Judge Michael M. Anello, for illegally disposing of trash containing a potentially fatal brew of acids and potassium cyanide.
In pleading guilty, Gonzalez Lopez admitted that on March 12, 2011, he picked up trash at We Lend More, a business located in National City, California. As he was aware, this trash included containers of acid and potassium cyanide. The following day, Gonzalez Lopez dumped the chemicals (which included federally regulated hazardous wastes such as nitric acid and potassium cyanide) in the Miramar Landfill. Due to the dangerous nature of these chemicals, they are prohibited from being disposed at the Miramar Landfill.
According to Joe Lowry, Chief Scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, when potassium cyanide and acids are combined they produce a deadly hydrogen cyanide gas. One breath of pure hydrogen cyanide gas would be enough to kill a person, and 50 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. This zone extends approximately 71 yards from the initial point of combination, and anyone within 30 yards when the chemicals combined would have been killed instantly.
Emphasizing the government’s commitment to enforcing environmental statutes, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy stated that “we will continue to work with our federal law enforcement partners to take firm and decisive action when slipshod, cavalier practices pose a threat to human health.”
“Hazardous wastes pose a great risk to human health and the environment when intentionally mismanaged,” said Jay M. Green, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “The defendant’s illegal disposal of dangerous acids and cyanides could have easily resulted in a serious injury or death had it not been for the vigilance of the Miramar Landfill operators. Today’s sentence demonstrates the government’s commitment to hold accountable those individuals who would attempt to profit by illegally dumping hazardous wastes.” San Diego FBI Acting Special Agent-In-Charge W Robert Howe added that this case “demonstrates the dedication of the FBI to the apprehension of those persons who jeopardize the health and lives of innocents through the deliberate mishandling and improper disposal of deadly chemicals.”
In February of 2011, We Lend More and its owner, Marc Vogel, were convicted by a jury of aiding and abetting the illegal transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. The trial evidence 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, causing instant death 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.
Criminal Case No. 11cr3327-MMA
DEFENDANTS Raul Antonio Gonzalez Lopez Age: 55 Hometown: Tijuana, Mexico
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Unlawful Disposal of Hazardous Waste– Title 42, U.S.C., Section 6928(d) Maximum penalty: Five years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation