Crystal Geyser stopped diverting wastewater into the Arsenic Pond in October 2014, the indictment said. The company was then left with the task of disposing of the poisonous water and the contaminated storing pond.
In 2015, Crystal Geyser hired United Pumping Services and United Storm Water, both based in Los Angeles County, to drain and transport the arsenic-contaminated water. Some of the water was transported to a hazardous waste facility in Los Angeles County. The remaining water was transported to a facility in Fontana, CA that was not permitted to the treat hazardous waste.
The three companies allegedly attempted to secretly transport the waste by not disclosing it on manifests as required by the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act and Resource Conservation Act.
In March and May of 2015, the indictment said, the companies repeatedly failed to tell authorities that they were transporting arsenic.
Laura Cunningham, California Director of Western Watersheds Project, said that pollution from industrial waste has been a particularly common issue in California’s recent history. In the case of mining operations, toxic chemicals can similarly leach into ponds and pose serious health risks when they evaporate and become airborne.
“When the water that is holding chemicals like this evaporates, it creates a toxic dust that can blow around,” Cunningham said. “It could then settle in other ponds, streams, and rivers. It could settle in the groundwater.”
If exposed to toxic levels of arsenic, poisoning can result in severe digestion issues, skin discoloration, liver and kidney failure, destruction of red blood cells, and death.
United States Attorney Nick Hanna said this negligence threatens the health and safety of California’s communities.
“Our nation’s environmental laws are specifically designed to ensure that hazardous wastes are properly handled from beginning to end – from the point of generation to the point of disposal,” Hanna said. “The alleged behavior of the three companies charged in this indictment undermines that important objective and jeopardizes the safety of our community.”
Water safety advocates question whether regulations can keep the bottled water industry in check. Adam Scow, California director of Food and Water Watch, said he doubted the fine would amount to a threat to the company’s business model.
“I think it’s time for the state of California to assess whether it is in their interest for private companies to bottle water,” Scow said. “Public oversight of water is critical. Water is our most important public resource.”