A San Diego-based company has been ordered to pay more than $150,000 in fines for stashing hazardous waste at three homes, including a seaside mansion in La Jolla.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of California said Curtis Technology, Inc. – a firm that makes specialized coatings, founded in 1981 – was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to pay a $45,000 fine for hazardous waste violations, plus $114,297 in clean-up costs.
According to investigators with the FBI’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company transported “hazardous waste from its facility without a manifest” between Dec. 12, 2015, and Aug. 22, 2019.
Curtis Technology Inc. (CTI) pled guilty in February.
In that plea, the company admitted it had been conducting metal finishing operations at its location on Sorrento Valley Road, which created various wastes including ferric chloride, alkaline, waste filter cake, solvents, and other hazardous materials, investigators said.
Over the course of nearly four years, those hazardous waste materials were illegally moved from the company’s Sorrento Valley Road facility to three homes owned by the CTI’s owner, including the La Jolla mansion on Wrelton Drive, where the waste had to be detonated by officials last fall.
The owner’s other two homes where the toxic waste was taken were on Corte Morea and Bourgeois Way, both east of Black Mountain Road. All three homes were unoccupied, investigators said.
The FBI learned of the hazardous waste at the homes on Nov. 8, 2019, when a maintenance worker for CTI said he – at the direction of the company’s owner – had been transporting various hazardous chemicals to be stored at the owner’s homes since 2017.
The chemicals were stored in 5-gallon buckets with lid and included selenium, cesium, ferric chloride, alkaline and filter cake. None of the buckets were labeled as hazardous waste, the employee told the FBI, and none of the transfers of the materials to the homes were accompanied by a hazardous waste manifest, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The employee feared the chemicals, now stored together, could react if they came into contact with one another and possibly cause an explosion.
The employee told the FBI that he had been to the homes before 2017 and had seen other containers of unknown chemicals at the properties.
On Nov. 14, 2019, federal search warrants were executed at the CTI owner’s three homes.
Across all three homes, investigators found more than 300 containers of waste chemicals.
At the Wrelton Drive mansion, the chemicals were too dangerous to haul away, so officials had to evacuate the neighborhood and perform a controlled detonation of the chemicals at the home.
No one was hurt in the detonation, which was completed over the course of two days.
The rest of the chemicals at the homes were cleaned up and disposed of through the EPA Superfund program, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, which cost around $114,000 to safely complete.
Investigators said this illegal activity happened after CTI had already been warned of 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.
San Diego FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Omer Meisel said CTI’s transportation and storage of the dangerous chemicals put the community at risk and “could have easily resulted in a serious injury or death.”