California transport companies fined $750,000 for arsenic-contaminated wastewater

August 20, 2020

Tyson Fisher


Two companies responsible for transporting hazardous waste material for drinking water company Crystal Geyser have been fined $375,000 each for improperly transporting arsenic-contaminated wastewater.

On Aug. 3, a federal district court in California fined City of Industry, Calif.-based United Pumping Service and United Storm Water $375,000 each after pleading guilty to violations of hazardous waste laws. The two companies, owned by the same family, were transporting wastewater for Crystal Geyser.

In order to produce drinking water, Crystal Geyser gets its water from natural sources that contain naturally occurring arsenic. To reduce the concentration of arsenic for consumption, the company uses sand filters. Through the regeneration process, the sand filters release arsenic into a hydroxide and water solution. As a result, thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater are produced through this method. From there, the wastewater is dumped into a manmade pond Crystal Geyser calls the Arsenic Pond.

In September 2014, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control determined that Arsenic Pond included hazardous waste defined within the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Subsequent testing in October 2014 revealed arsenic-contaminated wastewater in the pond also was hazardous waste per the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

In March 2015, Crystal Geyser hired United Pumping and United Storm Water to transport the wastewater rather than dumping it into Arsenic Pond.

The wastewater was to be moved to a hazardous waste facility in Los Angeles. In the manifests, the companies used a waste code identifying the high pH levels. However, no code was provided to identify the arsenic content of the wastewater.

The following month, the Department of Toxic Substances Control told Crystal Geyser to remove wastewater from Arsenic Pond. According to the indictment, United Pumping and United Storm Water illegally transported the wastewater in May. Specifically, the transport companies failed to obtain a permit required by the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.

In July 2018, the federal government filed a lawsuit against Crystal Geyser and the two transportation companies. The three companies were charged with 16 counts, including three related to the March 2015 incident and remaining 13 counts stemming from the May 2015 transport of arsenic-contaminated wastewater.

According to court documents, United Pumping had a discharge permit from L.A. County Sanitation. That permit allowed it to discharge treated industrial wastewater to the L.A. County Sanitation publicly-owned treatment works. However, United Pumping was not allowed to accept, store or treat any wastewater that had an arsenic concentration greater than 3 mg/L, which the Crystal Geyser wastewater exceeded.

In June, both transport companies pleaded guilty to the first four counts. Counts included the three for the March 2015 incident and a single count related to the May 2015 incident. Both companies were fined $375,000 each and placed on a three-year probation.