Manager Busted for Burying Hazardous Waste

Friday, May 2, 2014 @ 04:05 PM gHale

The manager of a chemical plant near DeLand, FL, is under arrest and facing charges of dumping of more than 150,000 pounds of hazardous waste on the plant’s grounds, state investigators said.

McEwan Bender, 37, of DeBary, FL, the former manager of the Thatcher Chemical plant in DeLand, is facing charges of improper disposal or storage of hazardous waste without a permit and commercial littering of more than 500 pounds, both felonies. Police arrested him last Friday.

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The dumping took place in 2010 and 2011, several employees of the plant told investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

In March, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) fined the company more than $230,000 in response to improper dumping at its DeLand facility and another facility in southwest Florida.

The Utah-based company also must clean up the contamination.

The FDEP began investigating the plant in August after receiving an anonymous complaint waste chemicals ended up buried in the woods behind the plant.

Bender denied the allegations when FDEP staff conducted a site investigation Aug. 21 at the plant.

After the visit, Bender contacted Thatcher Chemical’s home office in Salt Lake City, Utah, and told Darren Bauer, environmental health and safety manager, the allegations were untrue.

“On this same day, FDEP … also contacted Mr. Bauer and advised him of the inspection and the complaint. Mr. Bauer proceeded with an internal investigation, which led to the discovery of the allegations being true,” reads part of the charging affidavit from the State Attorney’s Office.

An investigator with the wildlife commission began a criminal investigation Aug. 27.

Three employees — Mike Baker, Travis Martell and Luis Alonzo — all told investigators they witnessed the burial of chemical waste. Alonzo told an officer he saw Baker and Martell burying sludge in 2010 and 2011 and confronted them, but both said they were doing it under Bender’s direction.

“Mr. Baker stated he would argue with the defendant (Bender) about the burying of the waste, but the defendant said it would not hurt anything and he was the boss and to just do it,” the affidavit said.

Martell told investigators Bender “would say it was his plant and he would run it the way he wants.”

The FDEP took soil samples from the site in September for testing which showed the presence of hazardous waste, including arsenic, iron and vanadium.

Bauer, the environmental health and safety manager who conducted an internal investigation, told FDEP he estimated more than 150,000 pounds of waste ended up buried on site.

“It is clear the defendant knew it was wrong to have participated/allowed, or given direction for hazardous waste to be buried on site,” the report said.

According to its website, the Thatcher Company is a “major chemical supplier and distributor” with operations in seven states, supplying clients in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe and the Pacific Rim. The company produces ferrous sulfate, aluminum sulfate and other chemicals used in water treatment.

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