A Redwood City construction company was hit with a $77,878 stipulated judgment for violating environmental law related to a toxic explosion in January that sent three trash collectors to the hospital.
The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Consumer and Environmental Unit filed the civil complaint in July alleging that Pellarin Construction Group and its Chief Executive Officer Arron John Pellarin unlawfully disposed of hazardous waste and engaged in other unlawful business practices at its Main Street building.
The stipulated judgment, however, was entered without findings or admissions of wrongdoing, according to a District Attorney’s statement.
The incident started when five plastic containers being kept outside the construction company’s building at 1520 Main St. in Redwood City were thrown in a 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 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 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 incident sent all three to the hospital.
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 but the county’s Environmental Health Department does.
"Volatile chemicals cannot be mixed in trucks,” according to a Recology statement.
The District Attorney’s Office sought reimbursement for the cost of cleaning the site and a permanent injunction against Pellarin to force it to comply with environmental law.
The civil complaint alleged that the defendant violated environmental protection and workplace safety laws and regulations, including the disposal of hazardous or extremely hazardous waste at an unauthorized point; not maintaining a safe work environment; and not properly training employees.
"We are pleased to have been able to cooperatively resolve this matter with San Mateo County. As long-standing citizens of Redwood City and the county of San Mateo, we take these matters very seriously. It was especially important to us to reimburse the county and all the first responders for their costs,” the company responded to the Daily Journal in an email yesterday.
The judgment against Pellarin included $45,000 in penalties and about $30,000 in cost reimbursement to the county and responding agencies.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.