Trash-Hauling Company Will Pay $1.5M Penalty For Crimes

Committed in D.C.

WASHINGTON -- Browning-Ferris Inc. (BFI), a subsidiary of one of the nation's largest trash hauling companies, today pled guilty to having failed to notify the District of Columbia for discharging contaminated wastewater from its medical waste facility into Washington, D.C.'s sewer systems, the Justice Department announced. Under a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., BFI agreed to pay $1.5 million in penalties and enact a nationwide program to ensure its medical waste facilities are complying with environmental laws. In the agreement, the Justice Department charges the Maryland based company with discharging contaminated wastewater from it's Capitol Processing Plant in violation of the Clean Water Act. The Capitol Processing Plant is a medical waste facility located in Northeast Washington. "There is no excuse for illegally discharging contaminated wastewater into the District of Columbia sewer system," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department. "BFI must abide by the laws that protect the residents of the District of Columbia and others from unlawful discharges into sewer systems. Since BFI did not abide by these laws, it will have to face the consequences." "This prosecution should send a clear message that companies cannot ignore the requirements of federal environmental laws here in the District of Columbia and expect to get away with it," said Wilma A. Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. "Those who commit environmental crimes in our nation's capital will be prosecuted and will pay a steep price for their actions." According to the plea agreement, between January 27, 1995 and March 24, 1995, BFI admitted that on three occasions its employees discharged a combination of rainwater and wastewater from the medical waste treatment process at the Capitol Processing Plant into the city's sewer system. It also admitted that it had not provided advanced notice of those discharges as required by the federally approved pretreatment program for the District of Columbia. BFI acknowledged that the wastewater it illegally discharged had come into contact with treated medical waste in a loading dock area at the Capitol Processing Facility known as "the trailer pit."

In pleadings filed with the court, the United States indicated that there is a dispute about whether the trailer pit also contained untreated medical waste. The contaminated wastewater was ultimately treated at the District of Columbia's Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant and from there discharged into the Potomac River. The Clean Water Act requires industrial facilities that discharge waste into the District of Columbia's sewer system to notify the District of Columbia of any substantial changes in the content or volume of the pollutants those facilities discharge. The notification requirement is part of the city's pretreatment program that has been federally approved under the Clean Water Act. Under a Clean Water Act permit, waste discharged into the sewer system flows to the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant, which in turn discharges treated wastewater into the Potomac River. For Blue Plains and other facilities like it throughout the country to operate effectively, operators or those facilities must know what pollutants are being discharged into the sewer system. On May 27, Gregory R. Smith, the former plant manager of the Capitol Processing Facility pleaded guilty to similar charges. Smith admitted that BFI had illegally discharged waste from the Capitol Processing Facility from February 1995 until at least April 1996. "Protection of this nation's waters is accomplished, to a greater extent, by treatment plants like Blue Plains. The Clean Water Act recognizes the critical importance of these treatment plants by making it a federal felony to commit illegal discharge like those made by BFI," said Earl E. Devaney, Director of EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement Forensics and Training. BFI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., one of the nation's largest trash hauling companies. This case is a joint prosecution of the Department of Justice's Environmental Crimes Section and the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Environmental Protection Agency. The investigation is continuing. ###