Norman Teltow, owner of Gold Metal Paint Co. LLC (GMP), pleaded guilty late yesterday in Denver to a criminal information charging him with illegally treating hazardous waste at the company’s facility, the Justice Department announced. Teltow, who will be sentenced on June 10, 2013, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.
Teltow operated GMP out of a hangar near the Front Range Airport in Watkins, Colo. GMP was primarily in the business of painting small aircraft. During the course of its business, GMP created hazardous waste in the form of spent methylene chloride-based solvents mixed with paint waste. Methylene chloride, a listed hazardous waste, is both ignitable and toxic. Moreover, exposure to methylene chloride can cause skin irritation, headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, GMP was required to use a licensed waste management company to transport the hazardous waste to a licensed facility for disposal. To avoid the costs associated with proper disposal, Teltow directed GMP employees to store the spent solvents in an underground tank below the facility, knowing that it was illegal to store the waste in that manner.
When the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) became aware that Teltow and GMP were storing hazardous waste in an underground tank, the agency conducted an inspection and ordered Teltow to hire a licensed waste management company to pump the waste out of the tank and dispose of it properly. CDPHE further ordered that the tank be cleaned, that the trench drain leading to the underground tank be sealed, and that GMP use a licensed waste management company to transport all hazardous waste in the future. In response to CDPHE’s orders, Teltow hired a licensed waste management company to pump out the tank, and sealed off the trench drain to the underground tank. However, rather than hire a licensed waste management company to clean out the tank, Teltow ordered subordinate employees to clean out the tank without the benefit of any personal protective equipment. The employees were exposed to hazardous waste containing methylene chloride, and suffered from headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
Teltow then devised a new plan for treating GMP’s hazardous waste by “evaporating” it into the atmosphere. Teltow ordered subordinate GMP employees to pour the hazardous waste onto the floor of the hangar at the end of the work day. Workers would then leave the hangar doors ajar and allow the methylene-chloride waste to evaporate. Teltow knew that it was illegal to treat the hazardous waste in this manner. When Teltow’s “evaporation” method was unsuccessful at treating all of the waste that GMP accumulated, Teltow drilled open the trench drain so that the waste could again flow into the underground tank.
“The illegal handling of hazardous waste threatens public safety and the environment and puts workers in harms way,” said Jeffrey Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Colorado. “The defendant admits that he attempted to make hazardous waste ‘disappear’ by ordering his workers to allow spent solvents to evaporate and to clean up hazardous chemicals without protective safety gear, putting the workers at great risk. Although this case centers on the illegal treatment of hazardous materials, it’s really about the defendant trying to save a buck by cutting corners.”
The investigation was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division, with assistance from inspectors at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and CDPHE. The case was prosecuted by James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section