Bankrupt L-Bar Products Inc. and two of its top managers were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges that they illegally had buried 80 partially filled barrels of acid at the firm’s Chewelah, Wash., plant.
The charges came almost three years after investigators received an anonymous tip and dug up the barrels in May 1992. The barrels were within 500 yards of the Colville River, but federal environmental officials said there was no threat to public safety.
L-Bar General Manager Paul Ortman and the company each were charged with eight counts of violating federal hazardous waste disposal laws, conspiring to violate environmental laws and making false statements to government agencies.
Plant manager Stan McCurdy was charged with three counts of conspiracy and hazardous waste violations.
No arraignment date has been set.
If convicted, the individuals face maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
Neither Ortman nor McCurdy could be reached for comment. L-Bar President Frank Melfi said he hadn’t seen the indictment and declined to comment. Melfi was reached at the Albuquerque, N.M., office of L-Bar’s parent company, Reserve Industries Inc.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Harrington declined to comment on the possibility of additional charges being filed. However, the indictment says Ortman and L-Bar conspired with “other persons, both known and unknown to the grand jury,” to violate federal law.
According to the indictments, Ortman directed an employee in November 1990 to investigate ways to dispose of the drums of spent sulfuric acid. After learning that proper disposal would be “very expensive,” Ortman told the employee he would “take care of the matter.”
The indictments say McCurdy ordered an employee to bury the acid barrels and Ortman knew about it. McCurdy allegedly reported the action to Ortman when it was completed, and Ortman allegedly subsequently lied about the acid in a report to the state Ecology Department.
The mostly empty barrels of spent and contaminated acid are stored in a building at the L-Bar site, two miles south of Chewelah. L-Bar used acid to recycle magnesium waste from the nearby Northwest Alloys smelter at Addy, Wash.
The plant has been closed since December 1991, and the company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Earlier this year, Northwest Alloys agreed to take the lead in cleaning up other contamination at the L-Bar site.
The indictments were announced in Spokane by state Attorney General Christine Gregoire even though the case will be handled in federal court and the investigation was initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Gregoire said the case is a cooperative effort of federal and state agencies.
The case is one of the first to be handled by the new Eastern Washington Federal-State Environmental Crimes Task Force which was formed in July, Gregoire said.
“This case wouldn’t be here if that partnership hadn’t existed,” she said.
Assistant Attorney General Jerry Ackerman of Olympia will help Harrington prosecute the case.