San Luis Obispo conceals toxic waste release

December 16, 2011

Taken one week after the illegal discharge, pictures of cans and chemicals.

By KAREN VELIE

Eleven months after a San Luis Obispo city employee dumped toxic chemicals at a public facility, city officials have still not reported the illegal discharge to state authorities as required by law.

The failure to report the spill could leave the city with fines totaling more than $1 million.

“I would hate to imagine the fines that could result from this mess,” Doug Dowdin, a city storm water enforcement official says in a Feb. 2 email to fellow employees. “I am sure that I don’t have to stress the potential liability.”

In mid January 2011, an angry city employee told several subordinates to pour out cans of acetones (solvents), varnish, epoxy, creosote, enamel paint and latex paint. The chemicals were dumped on an asphalt parking lot that abuts a grassy area. Paint and chemicals swirled together creating areas thick with paint and a lower section that included open soil coated with acetones, varnishes and creosotes.

Waste water collections supervisor Bud Nance had told the staffers to remove the contents of the hazardous waste storage shed at the city corporation yard on Prado Road and empty cans in the yard.

“It is illegal to dispose of hazardous waste in the garbage, down storm drains, or onto the ground, according to the California’s Department of Resources, Recycling, and Recovery website. “Chemicals in illegally disposed hazardous waste can be released into the environment and contaminate our air, water, and possibly the food we eat.”

Banned substances include latex paints, oil based paints and solvents, according to the state’s website.

Several of the chemicals poured out in the yard can affect health especially if leached into the ground or water supply.

Nance refused to answer questions about the spill, hanging up during an interview.

Solvents, varnish and creosote seeped from cans to a strip of wood separating the asphalt from the soil. Picture taken one week after discharge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nance ordered the dumping because he was angry with the city, several employees including supervisors said. Nance’s supervisors had questioned him about his relationship with a female coworker. And, he was upset because the city had investigated and wrote up a friend, Ron Faria, for taking a city lawn mower, they said.

City emails show fellow employees including Dave Hix, a San Luis Obispo wastewater division manager, chastising Nance for his actions.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Hix said in a Feb. 2 email to Nance.

Nance said he thought the spill was “a bit blown out of proportion and this event did not need to bring out the Calvary and waste staff time,” in a Feb. 2 email. He rebuffed several requests by Dowden that he take hazardous waste training saying he “had no interest.”

Dowden replied that the training was required because the chemicals had been dumped.

“The training component I offered up is a mandatory BMP (best management practice) after an illicit discharge of this nature, not only under San Luis Obispo’s permit, but under the EPA, DTSC, RCRA and etcetera regulations, so if utilities still doesn’t want the training that is up to you,” Dowden said in a Feb. 3 email to Nance.

The state requires notice of accidental or deliberate spills of hazardous waste within 15 minutes. The purposeful release of hazardous waste including acetones, creosotes and enamel paints would need to be reported to the environmental protection agency regardless of the amount, according to the State Department of Toxic Substances Control.

Failure to properly report a hazardous chemical spill includes a $25,000 a day fine until the incident is properly reported, state officials said.

City officials have tried to keep mum about the spill. A string of emails show some San Luis Obispo city employees attempting to downplay or hide the problem.

“As a follow-up to the incident concerning the illicit discharge of hazardous waste (i.e., paint) into the environment near a wetland at the back of the corporation yard by staff in Utilities, Freddy, myself and Kerry Boyle can put together some training for your staff concerning the proper containment, labeling, storing, inspection policies, leak containment and management and disposal of hazardous materials asap, so that we can avoid future incidences like the one that just occurred at the corporation yard in the future,” Dowdin says in an email to Dave Hix and three others on Feb. 2.

Some city employees and management have taken a don’t tell or downplay stance, while others are concerned with the affect the spill and the cover-up could have on the city.

Nance and San Luis Obispo Fire Department Hazardous Materials Coordinator Kerry Boyle claim the cans were primarily latex paint and the spill was no big deal.

But, photos and emails make it clear that it was much more than latex paint.

One photo shows more than nine legible can labels; only one is latex paint. Other labels show epoxy, rust remover, stain and enamel paint.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick called several employees, including Boyle, and ordered them to either refer all calls about the issue to her or to only interview via email, after learning of the CalCoastNews investigation.

Employees said Dietrick was insistent that the dump consisted primarily of latex paint and was not large enough to mandate an official report.

However, several upper level employees such as Tim Girvin, the city’s chief building official, say otherwise in emails following the illicit discharge.

“This issue is clearly related to hazardous waste,” Girvin said in a Feb. 14 email.

Two weeks after the chemicals were poured out on the ground, city management asked San Luis Obispo Fire Department Hazardous Materials Coordinator Kerry Boyle to inspect the site. Information from employees and dates on photos show the chemicals had been soaking into the ground for about two weeks before the city called the inspector.

Boyle determined the release did not “meet a reporting threshold,” said Aaron LaBarre, supervising environmental health specialist for San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services.

But, state law requires that intentional spills of hazardous waste be reported.

Boyle said that it was not his job to report the spill.

“Public works poured out the chemicals, it is their responsibility to report it, not mine, Boyle said.

Pouring out chemicals on asphalt was “stupid,” Boyle told CalCoastNews. But, he claimed the spill was not large enough to make it to a local waterway that lies less than 200 feet from the dump site. He also said that he did not think the spill leached into the ground water.

“I said it was very poor judgment,” Boyle said. “You do not mix creosotes, varnishes and oil based paints. I am OK with the latex paint.”

Other city experts said otherwise.

“Acetones can pass through the asphalt and easily penetrate soil to reach ground water, said an employee who asked not to be named to protect his job.

Up close picture of opened upside down can.

Empty cans left strewn in the corporate yard.

Workers poured out a gallon of creosote in the corporate yard. Two weeks after the illegal discharge, workers poured cat litter on top of the chemicals.


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cheseburger

Hell that’s my favorite kind of stain and could of used it.


cheseburger

“I am sure that I don’t have to stress the potential liability.” DUH! The lame brain who ordered it dumped on the lawn ought to have to sleep in it.


“Waste water collections supervisor Bud Nance had told the staffers to remove the contents of the hazardous waste storage shed at the city corporation yard on Prado Road and empty cans in the yard.”


That would be the guy, what a neanderthal, I mean let’s get serious, does this idiot get to keep his cu-sch job? This crap makes me want to puke. Only in the City, that, does what ever it want’s, Slo.


Serious about the stain, toxic as hell stays on for years, mixed with acetone, very close to a bomb.

In closing, this is what’s wrong with the G>O>B> System, it’s broken.


As the world turns

Amen.


blueman

Not too bright. Dumping chemicals and a relationalship with a female coworker. Jeez Mr. Nance think before you do something stupid.


MAD HATTER

The solutions are in place? Yep! They sure are. Dosn’t surprise me that all of this gets stuffed under the rug. Funny how Dave Hix is deflecting all of this onto Bud Nance. Dave used to be the cities Hazmat person for the wastewater division till he kissed up to manager. City employees know they are required to report. Duh! Trust me, all these guys are trained in this stuff. I don’t feel one once of pities for these idiots!


cvpaso

To Typo queen:

You are unbelievable!!! I’m sure the pictures were not faked. But the rest of the article regarding the Supervisors personal business is not part of the PICTURE!!. I feel the posts should promote a solution to SLO Hazardous waste programs not promote more jobs being lost. If it wasn’t for the Supervisor and his employees your sewage would be in your driveway.. Ya know maybe that is not such a bad idea, because I think you are full of it!! We need solutions not more destruction!!!


Typoqueen

What’s wrong with the waste program? I’m not worried about my sewage, I’m sure that the county is capable of finding employees that understand how to follow the proper procedures of disposing toxic waste. Here’s a lesson for the supe., call a toxic waste disposal company and have them take it, there’s your solution. Now go chill with a glass of our fine local wine, you sound a bit uptight.


cvpaso

Do any of you know what this article is doing to the City employees as well as their families! Especially around this time of year where peace and love should be promoted. Not degrading hardworking men and women who are just doing their jobs. I think this story is an attack on certain people employed by the City of SLO. There is slanderious, hear- say remarks made by the reporter as well as some comments by readers. I am appauled and disgusted by the hurtful and untrue statements and deeply sadden that human beings can say the things they do to hurt fellow peers. Hope you all are very happy with yourselves ! :(((((


Typoqueen

Aww, are we hurting the peoples feelings that dumped this stuff? I’m sorry, tell them to dump the all the toxic waste that they want, we don’t need clean drinking water. I wouldn’t want to make them bummed over the holidays because we want that stupid clean drinking water.


Are you saying that Karen set these pictures up, that they are fake?


cvpaso

Then it is in the LAPS of City Management. Like I said find solutions so this won’t happen again.


cvpaso

I have no idea how the city workers are educated on hazardous issues. I just saw all of the derogatory posts and felt for everyone involved in this mess. And as far as I’m concered the City should have their own dump for all their departments which they don’t. So again look to the City officials and Management and Councilmembers to fix the problem. Provide a dump site for SLO. Lets put a measure together for that!!


Ted Slanders

cvpaso,


Since I was guilty of chastising the persons in question that were guilty of this nefarious act, I was so distraught and moved by reading your post earlier, in that you said we’re to feel sorry for them, that I sobbed for them the whole day!!!! :(………


Subsequent to recovering from my shameful act, and going through four boxes of Kleenex, and without any more tears to shed, I lifted myself up to finally respond to your post, praise!


I can’t tell you how ashamed that I was in actually belittling Mr. Nance for his purposeful and dastardly deed of pouring toxic waste onto the City Yard because he was upset with another employee! What was I thinking, especially at Christmas time? :(


The next time I will give a person like Mr. Nance, and the others that are covering-up this act, a free ride, okay?


It’s Christmas time, remember? Please, will you forgive me?


Paperboys

Wow, what an idiot this Nance guy is. Everyone should know that you don’t pour chemicals or paint out on the ground, asphalt or not. I presume he thought it would all just evaporate?

I guess he must have missed school when the Integrated Waste Management Authority set up Household Hazardous Waste collection centers all over the county (see: http://www.iwma.com/householdhaz/dropoff.html) to make it easy for people to get rid of this stuff.

These pictures don’t look like there was a whole lot of stuff there. I’m sure it would have fit in one pick up load to be taken to Cold Canyon Landfill (there’s a HHW center there), which is what, 10-15 miles away from the Corp Yard?

I guess this Nance character couldn’t be bothered with obeying the same laws that WE all have to obey. If you or I were caught dumping paint and chemical solvents onto the ground, they’d throw the book at us.

A person’s whole life could be ruined, a fortune spent on fines and attorney fees, and you could even spend some jail time too – for a private citizen that is. Clearly a city worker is treated differently.

I also highly doubt that fire department haz-mat guy would be so understanding if some regular Joe-Six Pack dumped hazardous wastes on the ground next to a creek, no matter how much there was.

He’d be all over you and probably make it his personal mission to punish you, so he could then pat himself on the back and brag to all his professional haz-mat comrades at the next taxpayer funded Haz-Mat convention (probably in Vegas too!).

And I would have expected that haz-mat training would be mandatory for anyone working with these types of substances, especially if they work for a city. Acetone and creosote are flammable, so too is oil-based paint. Acetone will burn your skin and make you high as a kite from the fumes, and any rags soaked in these chemicals have the potential for spontaneous combustion and that means fire.

I don’t believe for a minute that the city hasn’t trained ALL its corporation yard workers (really maintenance people) in the handling of hazardous materials.

I’d be willing to bet a Wall Street bonus that Cal-OSHA requires it, too.

Stupid, stupid stupid. Not much more I can say.


Kevin Rice

FYI– Household Haz-Mat collection centers are for “households”, not businesses. The city cannot use this program. Instead, they must contract with a hazardous waste hauler. Household hazmat is available to county residents only and there is a five gallon limit accepting sealed and labeled containers only.


Paperboys

I’ve used that service several times and no one has ever asked me if I was a resident or a business. They didn’t check ID or anything either. I just drove up (at the one in Morro Bay) and dumped my used motor oil into a barrel and handed over several cans of old paint. No problem.

Of course if someone drove up in a marked city vehicle that might give them away.

But I wouldn’t doubt that this is the case. If so, then the IWMA should change its rules. Clearly, at least the morons at SLO City Corp Yard need the service.

Makes you wonder what they’ve done with this stuff in the past. This can’t be the first and only stockpile of this type that they’ve ever dealt with.


Cindy

According to the IWMA site that Paperboy linked to:


“The maximum amount you can drop off at one time for free is 15 gallons or 125 pounds”


“In addition, the facilities are open to small businesses, but you must first call 1-800-400-0811


I don’t know if the city would qualify to drop off, but it would appear that they have tripled the amount that they used to accept at each visit and they do allow small businesses the privilege as well now.


oto

Thank-you, Paperboys for the useful cites! I wasn’t sure if Cold Canyon had a place to bring hazardous materials. Also, it would have taken me ages to discover the name of the Integrated Waste Management Authority as the agency charged with setting policy and regulations for the disposal of hazardous materials in California. Definitely information worth saving.


By using those keywords, I was able to find some laws about the disposal of hazardous waste, such as Health and Safety Code Section 13525, et seq. Thank you for the valuable lesson!


Cindy

It is a GREAT LINK and very informative. I was surprised to learn about some of the items on the list that are hazardous to throw in the trash. They listed quite a few I know about but I had no idea that the following require special consideration upon disposal.


shoe polish – nail polish remover – metal polish – floor & furniture polish – ammonia based cleaners (I clean my windows with ammonia & water then dump the remainder down the drain) partially full aerosol cans – flee powder – land line phones (not just cell phones) – smoke alarms – thermostats.


I guess I shouldn’t be mixing any more buckets of ammonia based window cleaner, apart from what I’ll actually use. If they don’t want it thrown in the dump, I guess it shouldn’t be going down the drain either.


oto

How to remedy city employee actions which could be classified as “only the discretionary acts of a non-supervisorial employee”:


1. Tell City Atty. Christine Dietrick to get her thumb out of her a___ so she can hear herself think; then remind her that she’s a prosecutor and that she should consider:


a. What is the definition of a hate crime based on gender?


b. What is the Fed’s definition of “an act of terror?”


c. What’s the difference between the acts which those two laws were intended to punish and this act?


TacomaRose

This story boils really down to the mismanagement of SLO.


SLO management has a culture and history of playing hide the ball and line employees know this all too well. When they bring problems to management, there is a pow-wow between upper management (often including officials).


Decisions are often based on the likelihood of public discovery and embarrassment and sweeping things under the carpet is, in some cases, the preferable option.


Whatever decision is rendered, the employee(s) who first sound the warning to management are often branded with a management label that they are untrustworthy, or better yet they aren’t “team players.”


Until the cycle of unethical management and official tolerance is broken these behaviors and consequence will continue and it is the public who will remain the loser.


There is certain irony in the fact that certain bloggers are always bashing the union people claiming they are covering up for some of the bad employees and marginal managers . In reality, there is every reason to believe it is the same union people who don’t condone certain behaviors and that they have the fortitude to stand up and blow the whistle. To them I say BRAVO!


Ted Slanders

Tacomarose,


“Whistle blowers” are protected by being under a Union contract. Therefore they can come forth without reprisal. .Just one more positive aspect of being in a Union.


The ones that rant agaisnt a Union obviously have never been a member of a Union in any way whatsoever, and are “possibley” jealous in what it represents. Yes, jobs are protected to prenvent just what you explained, and yes, every once and a while you have the bad apple like Mr.Nance that is protected as well. That does not throw a bad light upon the whole membership as some would like to insidiously propose.


Cindy

Government Employee’s are also protected from retaliation for whistle blowing. Unions have no business in the public sector, period. Public Employees are in service to the people, not the other way around but that is exactly what it has come to.


CalCoastOutrage

It seems that the supposed laws that are supposed to protect whistleblowers aren’t as strong as they appear to be. For the last two years we’ve heard of quite a few whistleblowers getting the short end of the stick in this county. Wasn’t the city’s lab tech just fired after he reported a spill to the correct authorities? And wasn’t his supervisor fired for standing up for him? The powers that be are still leading the organization and it doesn’t look to me that the laws have offered any protect to these people.

No wonder this took 11 months to reach the media.

This the moral and legal authorities of this county are more concerned with looking the other way.


slobody

That was all in Oceano, not SLO, and the “bad guy” was the private engineering outfit that ran the utility system, you know, “public-private partnership” stuff in which the public gets screwed, and the private gets rich.


Slowerfaster

i’ve read your, …er stuff. You just hate unions, period. A troll for the right wing civilization destroyers without a clue.


Your kind thought slavery was cool, so don’t try to pretend you’re something you are not.


RU4Real

This is NOT the first cover up in SLO County, it happens more often than most people would even believe. My question, however, is what will happen to Nance & the rest of his gang of stooges? Will they be terminated & suffer fines or will it be “business as usual” with a simple slap on the limp wrist?


CalCoastOutrage

I’m guessing like the supervisors who fired whistleblowers, absolutely nothing will happen to them. This media storm will give them heartburn and indgestion for a a couple weeks, and then it will all fade away.

I definitely do not condone this happening, but that’s how this county seems to roll.


seesfarther

What pisses me off?


Not only that this has taken place but that the fines will be levied against SLO City (tax payers.) Why not fine the responsible parties directly? In my field (nursing) I am only covered by the institution for which I work so long as I practice according to policy. Violate policy and I’m on my own.


I say the responsible parties should be fired AND fined!


cooperdog

I agree with you, the employee should have know better than to dump this stuff in the parking lot. However, the employee will claim that they were not properly trained in the handling of hazardous waste and the union will back his story. The liability will then rest with the City.


I had an employee back over himself with a vehicle. While kneeling beside the vehicle, he released the parking brake. The vehicle was, running and the transmission was in reverse. Fortunately, only a couple of broken ribs. OSHA had a field day with this. It was my fault since I didn’t adequately train the employee not to due such a bone headed thing. We’re living in a society were there’s no personal accountability.


SLOChildrenAtPlay

I’m really suprised that city councilman John Ashbaugh hasn’t yet sent a letter to CCN calling this just another “rampant conspiracy theory,” or accusing Karen Velie of being just another “political activist with an axe to grind.”


I wonder how Litchtig is going to demonstrate her “absolute leadership” in addressing this mess.


Slowerfaster

I had to give you a thumbs up, just for your username.