Oakland company gets maximum fine for wastewater violation

The Associated Press
Wednesday March 20, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — The federal government fined an Oakland metal finishing company $385,000 and sentenced the owner to six months house arrest Tuesday for diverting wastewater directly into the sewer. 

The fine, the maximum allowed under the Clean Water Act, followed a federal and local investigation, which was prompted by reports that E-D Coat, Inc. was bypassing wastewater treatment systems. 

The Environmental Protection Agency and East Bay Municipal Utilities District found that the company had installed a bypass valve in its building that sent wastewater contaminated with metals straight into the sewer. 

Jerry Rossi, 59, of Alameda, E-D Coat’s owner, chief executive officer and president, and Jack Marlow, the company’s supervisor of the wastewater treatment facility pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act. They each were sentenced to three years’ probation, in addition to Rossi’s six-month house arrest, and each were ordered to pay a criminal fine of $215,000 in addition to the EPA’s $385,000 civil fine. 

The bypass valve could be operated with the flip of a switch, according to the EPA. The agency is uncertain how long the company was bypassing treatment, but the valve was built into the buildings. 

“Usually, in criminal cases, the industry has a hose and pump and they’re pumping at night into their toilet or something,” said Greg V. Arthur, an environmental engineer for Clean Water Act compliance at the EPA. “Nobody has built-in ways to get around the treatment system. Never have I seen that.” 

The bypass valve allowed cyanide-bearing waste streams to be treated in a first step to remove the cyanide and acid, but it then directed the waste past the second step, which removes metals, and sent it directly to the sewage system. 

The buildings also had concealed pipes that drained waste through bathroom connections into the sewer. That waste was completely untreated, and officials found that acid from that had corroded sewer lines along Fourth Street in Oakland. 

The metal waste also could have shut down operations at the sewage treatment plant because the plant uses bacteria to dispose of waste, and the metals are toxic to the bacteria.