San Diego, California - Curtis Technology Inc., a San Diego firm that makes specialized coatings, was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to pay a $45,000 fine and $114,297 in clean-up costs for illegally transporting hazardous waste from its facility without a manifest.

Curtis Technology Inc. (CTI) pleaded guilty in February, admitting that it conducted metal finishing operations at its location on Sorrento Valley Road, which generated various wastes, including ferric chloride, alkaline, waste filter cake, solvents and other chemicals.  The company admitted that between December 12, 2015 and August 22, 2019, the CTI owner and a maintenance employee transported chemicals, including waste ferric chloride, waste filter cake, waste alkaline, waste solvents and other chemical wastes, from the CTI location on Sorrento Valley Road to the CTI owner’s three residences located on Wrelton Drive, Corte Morea, and Bourgeois Way, without an accompanying hazardous waste manifest.

On November 8, 2019, a maintenance worker for CTI told the FBI that beginning in 2017, at the direction of the company owner, he transported various chemicals (both unused and waste) to be stored at the owner’s three residences in San Diego.  The employee stated that the chemicals were hazardous, and that some could react with others stored at the same location if they were to come in contact with each other, potentially resulting in explosion.  The employee further stated that he had been to the residences prior to 2017 with the owner and had observed containers of unknown chemicals at the residences prior to his first deliveries at each location.  The chemicals he delivered were stored in five-gallon buckets with lids and jars with lids, and included selenium, cesium, ferric chloride, alkaline and filter cake (solids strained from liquids or sludges).  All three residences where the chemicals were stored were unoccupied, and none of the chemicals were labeled as hazardous waste. None of the chemicals transported to the residences by the employee were accompanied by a hazardous waste manifest.

On November 14, 2019, federal search warrants were executed at the three residences identified by the employee as places where the hazardous waste was being stored.  Collectively, at the three sites, over 300 containers of waste chemicals were discovered.  At one of the locations, chemicals deemed too unstable to transport were discovered.  The area was evacuated, the San Diego Fire Department Bomb Squad arrived, and the chemicals were detonated on site. The remaining chemicals were removed from the sites, and disposed of as hazardous waste through the EPA Superfund program at a cost of approximately $114,000. The illegal activity occurred after the company had been subject to an adverse administrative action relating to its management of its hazardous waste.

“This company was so cavalier and irresponsible about the storage of chemicals that it knowingly put an entire neighborhood at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This sentence holds the company accountable for its illegal actions.”  Brewer also commended the prosecution team headed by AUSA Melanie Pierson for their diligence in this case.

“The illegal transportation and storage of dangerous chemicals and hazardous waste could have easily resulted in a serious injury or death,” said San Diego FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Omer Meisel.  “Today’s conviction demonstrates the FBI's commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those individuals who do not follow proper hazardous waste protocol and put the community at risk.”

“The defendant illegally stored chemicals in a residential area that were too unstable to safely transport for disposal,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “These actions required the evacuation of a neighborhood to allow local law enforcement officials to detonate the chemicals safely. EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to addressing these risks and enforcing our environmental laws.”