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Oregon polluter sent to prison

PORTLAND – In a rare prison sentence for an environmental crime, the owner of a company that repeatedly mishandled waste oil and other hazardous material was sentenced Thursday to six months in a federal penitentiary.

Donald Spencer must also pay a maximum fine of $150,000 on behalf of his former company, Spencer Environmental Inc.

Spencer was convicted of failing to dispose properly of thousands of gallons of used oil, much of it dumped into a large open pit in southeast Portland. His company was convicted of illegal treatment and disposal of wastewater contaminated with highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton said the mishandled waste was the source of a catastrophic fire and was implicated in the case of a worker who “died a horrible death – with his lungs gradually disintegrating.”

Holton told U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty that a prison term for Spencer was needed because “it is imperative that a message be sent loud and clear – we can’t let environmental crimes such as this be treated as the cost of doing business.”

Haggerty agreed the company shared some of the blame for the death of Tim Smith, a college student who died of lung damage in July 2003 about three weeks after he tried to clean a tank for an industrial customer of Spencer Environmental.

Because a Spencer Environmental manager ordered the tank filled with other material after Smith was hospitalized with breathing problems, prosecutors said it was impossible to prove any connection.

But the judge told Spencer during sentencing on Thursday there was “no question” that if his company had properly tested the tank for contamination, Smith would not have been ordered to clean it.

“I realize that you or your company were not charged with the injury that resulted in death,” Haggerty said, “but the government’s argument for a penitentiary sentence has merit.”


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