Michigan Company and Its Owner Sentenced for Illegally Storing Hazardous Waste
Electro-Plating Services Inc. (EPS), located in Madison Heights, Michigan, was sentenced in federal court in Detroit to five years of probation, and was ordered to pay restitution of $1,449,963.94 joint and several with Gary Sayers to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Sayers, EPS’s owner, was sentenced to one year in prison followed by three years of supervised release. The Honorable Stephen J. Murphy issued the sentence, having accepted each of their pleas of guilty to a federal hazardous waste storage felony on Feb. 14, 2019.
The crime related to Sayers’s operation of EPS, which used chemicals such as cyanide, chromium, nickel, chloride, trichloroethylene, and various acids and bases, as part of the plating process. After these chemicals no longer served their intended purpose, they became hazardous wastes, which required handling in compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Rather than having EPS’s hazardous wastes legally transported to a licensed hazardous waste facility, Sayers stored the hazardous waste in numerous drums and other containers, including a pit dug into the ground in the lower level of the EPS building in Madison Heights. For years, Sayers stonewalled state efforts to get him to legally deal the hazardous wastes. Ultimately, the EPA’s Superfund program spent $1,449,963.94 to clean up and dispose of the hazardous wastes.
“This case shows that anyone who chooses to do business with dangerous materials must obey federal laws that protect our fellow Americans and the environment. These defendants’ knowing, illegal storage of waste cyanide, highly corrosive wastes, toxic chromium waste, and reactive wastes posed a significant danger and threat to nearby communities and the environment,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “They disregarded the law and numerous warnings and requests by state authorities to comply with their legal obligations. The Department of Justice will act to protect public health and safety.”
“The improper storage of hazardous waste presents a significant danger to our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider of the Eastern District of Michigan. “EPS blatantly disregarded the safety of our community and environment. We hope this case will serve as notice to other businesses that law enforcement will take all necessary action to ensure compliance with our environmental laws and protect the people of Michigan.”
“Hazardous wastes pose serious risks to the health of entire communities, so it’s imperative they be handled and disposed of safely and legally,” said Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Lynn of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Michigan. “Today’s sentencing sends a clear signal that EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to the protection of public health and will continue to pursue those who blatantly undermine those efforts.”
According to court records, Sayers—who owned and was the President of EPS—knew that such storage was illegal and had managed the company’s former Detroit facility where he kept hazardous wastes illegally. Starting in 1996, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) repeatedly sent him warnings about his illegal handling of hazardous waste. In 2005, Sayers was charged with and pleaded guilty to illegally transporting hazardous wastes in state court. During the ensuing years, the MDEQ attempted to get Sayers and EPS to properly manage the amounts of hazardous wastes piling up at the Madison Heights location. The MDEQ issued numerous letters of warning and violation notices to the company regarding its hazardous wastes.
In 2016, the MDEQ identified over 5,000 containers of liquid and solid wastes at the Madison Heights location. That same year, the city of Madison Heights revoked the company’s occupancy permit. In January 2017, the EPA initiated a Superfund removal action, after determining that nature and threats posed by the stored hazardous waste required a time-critical response. The cleanup was completed in January 2018.
Assistant Attorney General Clark and U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Schneider thanked EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Environmental Investigation Section for their work investigating this case, as well as the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE, formerly the MDEQ) and the Coast Guard Investigative Service, which provided investigative support. Senior Counsel Kris Dighe of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara D. Woodward of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan are prosecuting the case.