A local plastics recycling operation has been sued by the state over allegations the company processed toxic materials it was not authorized to handle.
The suit accuses KW Plastics of California of taking in polypropylene chips contaminated with lead and corrosive acid from a battery recycling plant.
Although KW Plastics received a permit in 1994 to process waste containing lead, having already done so for 5 years, it was never authorized to handle corrosive materials, according to the suit filed Dec. 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court by California's Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The agency further accuses the recycler of compressing hazardous waste with a bailer and drying it on racks, neither of which are allowed by the company's permits.
The case stems from a federal criminal case against Alabama-based Wiley Sanders Truck Lines Inc., whose recently deceased founder was a co-owner of KW Plastics' parent company, also based in Alabama.
The trucking company agreed Feb. 25 to plead guilty to federal charges of knowingly transporting hazardous materials in trucks unequipped for the job. Sentencing is set for June 10.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles say Wiley Sanders trucks leaked liquid containing dangerously high levels of lead on roads and freeways from a now-defunct Exide battery plant in the city of Vernon, in LA County, to KW Plastics' Bakersfield recycling plant, where the plastic chips were turned into pellets for reuse in the manufacture of other products.
At peak operation, the Exide facility received 40,000 lead-acid batteries per day. While their lead was turned into raw material that could be remade into new batteries, the leftover plastic was rinsed off and loaded onto trucks bound for Kern County.
Prosecutors say that once the plastic arrived in Bakersfield it was turned into products including battery cases, glove box liners and nursery trays for plants.
KW Plastics did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
A spokesman for the DTSC said KW Plastics faces penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, up to a total of $25,000 per day, for violations occurring before Jan. 1, 2018. After that time, the penalties rise to $70,000 per violation, up to a total of $70,000 per day.
Under the terms of a settlement with LA County, Wiley Sanders Truck Lines will pay $1.5 million into a fund set up to assess and address Exide-related contamination, plus $800,000 in penalties and $85,000 for investigation-related costs.
The trucking company also agreed to refrain from disposing of any hazardous waste in the county. It also promised not to transport hazardous waste to a facility unauthorized to accept or recycle it, and said it would not ship waste in trucks that are not secure or free from leaks.
When the settlement was announced, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis spoke out against the trucking company's practices and the harm they may have done to children who may have ingested the lead, which can cause serious physical and mental damage.
"For decades, hard-working families were unaware that trucks leaving Exide's facility illegally carried and leaked hazardous waste into the community and endangered the health and safety of children and others," Solis said in a news release.
"It is unacceptable and a human rights violation," she continued, "that unsuspecting children and families at nearby schoolyards and parks were potentially exposed to these hazardous materials."