USA: Criminal charges have been levelled against a metal recycler for allegedly releasing hazardous chemicals including refrigerants.

An investigation by the California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has resulted in the filing of 19 criminal charges against ANK Metal Recycling of Sun Valley. The DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) alleges that the company failed to properly store and dispose of hazardous waste such as diesel fuel, heavy metals, refrigerant gases and asbestos.

ANK Metal Recycling owners Brian Kassoff and Carlos Almazan and their business were each charged with multiple counts of violating the California Health and Safety Code and the Los Angeles Municipal Code. If convicted, the defendants could face up to 11 years and six months in jail and $415,000 in fines.

The Los Angeles City Attorney’s complaint alleges that Kassoff and Almazan, through ANK Metal Recycling, illegally disposed or improperly stored multiple toxic and hazardous substances at the facility in May 2016. The list of alleged violations include a failure to properly process appliances which resulted in the accumulation of hazardous metals and the release of refrigerant gases. They were also accused of failing to retain receipts or invoices for the disposal of materials that require special handling and improperly disposing of asbestos hazardous waste from air conditioning inside a facility dumpster.

The charges are said to be the first to stem from a state-wide initiative that found alleged hazardous waste violations at 40 out of 42 metal recycling companies.

“This programme confirms there should be continued focus on this industry,” said Hansen Pang, chief investigator of DTSC’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “Many of these facilities are in California’s most vulnerable communities. We are creating strategies to ensure these companies meet regulations, and that residents in these areas are protected.”

The 2015 Enhanced Enforcement Initiative in Vulnerable Communities called for inspecting 40 to 45 of the state’s 2,500 metal-recycling facilities. OCI inspectors found alleged violations at 95% of those inspected. The DTSC says it is pursuing enforcement action on all violations.