FLORIDA - Accidental Spill of 441 Gal. Sulfuric Acid on March 7 Results in Charges for 3 Water Workers

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Title: Three water workers face charges in Collier

By DENES HUSTY III, The News-Press

March 31, 2000

NAPLES  A prosecutor Thursday released the name of a third employee charged with illegally disposing of more than 400 gallons of hazardous sulfuric acid at a Collier County water treatment plant.

Randy John Garay, 45, came to the state attorneys office in Naples and was charged Thursday morning, said Assistant State Attorney Michael Provost.

Garay, an operations superintendent at the plant, joins chief plant operator Robert Lynn Wheeler, 49, and senior plant operator Barry Neil Erickson, 36, who were charged Wednesday.

Each is charged with littering and improperly disposing of sulfuric acid at the North Collier County Water Treatment Plant. Each charge carries a maximum five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The three were not required to be booked into jail. Their arraignment hearings are set for April 24.

The supervisors have been suspended without pay for five days and will spend another six months on disciplinary probation when they return, Collier County Manager Tom Olliff said in a written statement.

Additionally, Garay was demoted from operations superintendent to plant operator, a non-supervisory position, Olliff stated.

The events leading to the charges began March 8, when Gary, Wheeler and Erickson decided to dispose of hazardous waste on site at the water plant at 7008 Vanderbilt Beach Road Extension, according to a sworn statement by Donald R. Grey, a special agent for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The state agency began an investigation following an anonymous complaint, and the results were turned over to the state attorneys office for prosecution of the case, officials have said.

According to Greys statement, an accidental spill of 441 gallons of sulfuric acid occurred at the plant the night of March 7. It was mixed with 759 gallons of water and confined to a containment area.

Sulfuric acid is used to purify water. When mixed with water, it gives off fumes that are extremely dangerous if inhaled.

Garay, Wheeler and Erickson concluded it would be best to dump the sulfuric acid into a stormwater retention pond at the plant and then pump untreated water into the pond.

A septic tank company, J.C. Drainfield, was hired to remove the acid from the containment area and pump it into the pond.

Company officials were not told they would be handling sulfuric acid and the firm is not licensed to transport hazardous waste.

The septic tank truck driver, Gino Aull, was not told he was pumping acid into the truck until he was halfway finished emptying the containment area.

The driver then pumped the acid into the retention pond as he was told to do. He was not charged.

 Denes Husty can be reached at 992-1345.

Copyright 3000, The News-Press.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 31, 2000

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