A Solano County appliance recycling firm has agreed to six-figure fine for mishandling and burning hazardous waste, The Reporter has learned.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control on Thursday announced an agreement with Fairfield-based appliance recycler Freon Free, which will pay a penalty of $145,760 for the violations.
In a press release, state inspectors said they found that employees at the firm were burning hazardous waste without a permit, increasing the risk of an on-site fire or explosion. Additionally, inspectors learned that for years Freon Free, which has a main office on Walters Court, near Air Base Parkway, was improperly treating two to three ammonia-containing refrigerators per week.
In the prepared statement, department spokesman Gamaliel Ortiz noted that company employees used bolt cutters to sever refrigerant lines, releasing their contents into a container with water. Treating ammonia that way, without a permit, violates legal requirements and could result in serious injury, Ortiz noted.
DTSC Director Meredith Williams said state law sets forth “clear guidelines and a certification process for handlers of discarded appliances.”
“The inherent dangers posed to the public and environment by certain components, including materials that require special handling, must be taken seriously and mitigated by recycling companies,” she added in the release.
Her department’s Office of Criminal Investigations and Enforcement and Emergency Response Division conducted on-site inspections at Freon Free locations in Fairfield, American Canyon, and Orland, the latter a Central Valley town between Williams and Red Bluff on Interstate 5.
Among the several violations, state inspectors found were 1) company employees were treating and storing hazardous waste without a permit; 2) removing materials that require special handling at locations that were not certified; 3) inadequately training staff on how to manage waste, and 4) using other hazardous waste management practices that violated the state’s Hazardous Waste Control Law and Health and Safety Code. State Department of Toxic Substances Control penalizes Freon Free burning hazardous waste without a permit, a fire risk, and inadequately training staff about waste material handling
Under California law, those who recycle discarded major appliances that contain materials requiring special handling, also known as MRSH, must meet certification requirements. Handlers who demonstrate the ability to properly remove and manage waste in accord with waste control laws are approved by DTSC’s Certified Appliance Recycler Program.
To prevent the release of dangerous components in appliances, handlers are required to remove mercury, oils, refrigerants, polychlorinated biphenyls, and any other materials that are regulated as hazardous waste. Freon Free may continue to remove MRSH as part of the agreement.
The Office of Criminal Investigations — OCI is the only criminal investigations unit within the California Environmental Protection Agency — is a special investigation unit within DTSC, consisting of law enforcement officers, scientists, and a computer forensics specialist who investigate criminal misconduct involving hazardous waste in California.
Ortiz noted that the mission of the Enforcement and Emergency Response Division is “to protect human health and the environment through consistent and timely investigations, enforcement, and emergency response in conjunction with other state, federal and local agencies.”
The mission of DTSC, he added, is to protect Californians and the environment from harmful effects of toxic substances by restoring contaminated properties, enforcing hazardous waste law, reducing the amount of hazardous waste, and encouraging the manufacture of chemically safer products.
To report illegal handling, discharge, or disposal of hazardous waste, call the Waste Alert Hotline at (800) 698-6942.
For additional information and handling and disposal of hazardous waste, contact the DTSC, telephone (800) 728-6942 or visit www.dtsc.ca.gov.