On January 9, the company that bottles Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water pled guilty to two felonies in U.S. District Court. According to the U.S. District Attorneys office the corporation, pled guilty to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material at its plant in Olancho, California. The plea agreement also includes a criminal fine of $5 million.
According to court documents for the past 15 years, CG Roxane discharged arsenic-contaminated wastewater into a man-made pond. This dumping site became known as the “Arsenic Pond” at its Olancho Facility near Highway 395.
The investigation for the criminal case against the bottled water company was conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigations Division and the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General. These federal agencies received assistance from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California also assisted in the investigation.
The company was under scrutiny for its handling of hazardous waste at the pond since 2013. A sample of the water was taken by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board in March 2013. The sample tested showed the arsenic levels were eight times higher than the limit allowed under federal water standards. In 2015, authorities ordered the Arsenic Pond to be removed.
The Arsenic Pond was affecting the ecosystem around seeping into groundwater and poisoning wildlife. Ingestion of arsenic can pose a risk of cancer, according to a 2004 report by Joan E. Denton, Ph.D. for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office reported the pond was not properly removed nor was it properly identified as a hazardous material when transported. A press release read that a Southern California facility received the contaminated wastewater that was incapable of treating or receiving poisoned water.
The press release also read, “As a result, more than 23,000 gallons of wastewater from the Arsenic Pond was discharged into a sewer without appropriate treatment.”
CG Roxane issued a statement to clarify the bottled water consumed by the public was not at risk. The felonies were based on handling and transporting wastewater.
Arsenic naturally forms in the groundwater that is sourced from the Sierra Nevada Mountains but the bottled water company filters out the arsenic using sand and a sodium hydroxide solution. This process according to the U.S. District Attorneys Office generates thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated water.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero scheduled a sentencing hearing for Feb. 24.
The two companies hired by CG Roxane to transport and treat the wastewater were also charged by the U.S. District Attorneys Office. Those companies are: United Pumping Services, Inc. and United Storm Water, Inc., both located in the City of Industry. A trial is scheduled for April 21, if found guilty, each company would face a maximum fine of $8 million.
Assistant United States Attorneys Dennis Mitchell, Heather C. Gorman and Michael G. Freedman of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.