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DA seeks damages in hazmat case
July 25, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

A toxic explosion that sent three trash collectors to the hospital in January has resulted in the filing of a civil complaint by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office against a Redwood City construction company for violating environmental law.

The office’s Consumer and Environmental Unit filed the civil complaint Monday alleging that Pellarin Construction Group and its CEO Arron John Pellarin unlawfully disposed of hazardous waste and engaged in other unlawful business practices.

The list of violations the office contends is lengthy with civil penalties of up to $25,000 attached to each.

Five plastic containers being kept outside the construction company’s building at 1520 Main St. in Redwood City were thrown in a garbage dumpster by a supervisor of the company back in December, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The containers contained poly carboy; lithiochrome that contains hydrochloric acid; chrome chloride; cupric chloride; ferrus chloride and ferric chloride; Baume hydrochloric acid; El Diablo Drain Cleaner that contains sulfuric acid; ammonia; and Marine Resin, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The containers had been kept on the property for prolonged periods of time, some for at least 10 years, according to the civil complaint.

In early January, two Recology employees drove their rear-loading garbage truck into the business’ parking lot for a routine garbage pickup. They rolled the dumpster into position at the rear of their garbage truck and transferred the contents. In doing so, the two Recology workers unknowingly moved the five containers of hazardous waste from the dumpster to their garbage truck, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Just as the garbage truck’s actuator blade began moving the items to the rear of the truck, an audible explosion occurred. Turning from the noise, the two workers just missed being sprayed by toxic liquid, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

However, the two workers inhaled smoke emanating from the chemical brew that caused them both breathing difficulties, eye pain and prolonged and sustained coughing to the point that one of them vomited, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

A Recology supervisor called to the scene by the two workers also unknowingly walked through a visible gas cloud that was still present near the rear of the truck, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The supervisor then called 911 and all three were transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Police, fire and a hazardous materials crew were called to the scene and spent hours going through the contents of the garbage to locate and identify the toxic substances.

Recology does not handle hazardous materials, the company’s General Manager Mario Puccinelli told the Daily Journal yesterday.

"Volatile chemicals cannot be mixed in trucks,” he said.

All Recology employees benefit from ongoing hazmat training, he said, not just for the safety of its workers but for the general public as well.

"We need to reinforce to the public how to properly dispose of hazardous materials,” Puccinelli said.

The county’s Environmental Health Department handles hazmat disposal, he said.

The violations a judge will consider against Pellarin include how the hazardous materials were disposed of, how long they were stored, the severity of the harm done and whether the company had an unfair advantage over its competitors by not paying for the proper disposal of the chemicals, said Deputy District Attorney Todd Feinberg.

A judge will also consider whether Pellarin provided a safe working environment for its employees and whether they were properly trained, Feinberg said.

The District Attorney’s Office is seeking civil penalties, reimbursement for the cost of the cleaning the site and a permanent injunction against Pellarin to force it to comply with environmental law.

Arron John Pellarin could not be reached for comment yesterday. His attorney David Sloan said his client had just received the complaint and was not prepared to comment on it.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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