By Scott Alonso, Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office and Kim McCarl, Contra Costa Health Services
The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office announces today a $4 million civil settlement with USS-UPI, Inc. to resolve allegations that USS-UPI violated multiple state environmental laws and regulations dating back 4 years. This case involved numerous violations related to the maintenance, storage, and disposal of hazardous materials and toxic waste. This case resolved by way of a stipulated final judgment entered in Contra Costa County Superior Court and requires a monetary payment of $4 million from USS-UPI, which is comprised of $1.75 million in civil penalties, $1 million dollars in environmental compliance expenditures, $250,000 for supplemental projects promoting training for California environmental agencies and funding to support the “Health Career Pathways Programs.” UPI-USS must also abide by an injunction and be subject to a suspended penalty of $1 million dollars to ensure future statutory compliance as well as pay $429,383.85 for reimbursement of investigative and enforcement costs.
“It is of vital importance to hold our companies responsible for the unlawful maintenance, storage and disposal of hazardous materials and waste,” said District Attorney Diana Becton. “USS-UPI was cooperative throughout our investigation and this settlement was only reached after verification that USS-UPI had corrected the violations and created and implemented an environmental compliance framework.”
The investigation began with Contra Costa Health Services Hazardous Materials Programs inspectors auditing operations at the USS-UPI, Inc. steel plant facility at 900 Loveridge Road in Pittsburg, California. Inspectors with Contra Costa Health Services acted under their authority as the Certified Unified Program Agency (CUPA) for Contra Costa County.
“Any business in our community not following the law must be held accountable. Fortunately, with this settlement, USS-UPI will need to adhere to strict oversight and penalties for these serious violations,” Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover. Supervisor Glover represents District 5, which includes the location of this steel plant.
The Contra Costa Health Services investigation found numerous violations that threatened the environment and safety, such as:
- Failure to maintain and operate the facility to minimize the possibility of fire explosions or unplanned release of hazardous waste
- Failure to remove accumulated oil and failure to correct visible discharges of oil from equipment
- Failure to submit a complete/correct Hazardous Materials Business Plan
- Failure to train employees in safety procedures in the event of a release of a hazardous material
- Failure to remove from service a tank system where there has been a leak
- Failure to obtain the proper permits
- Failure to maintain records of inspections and tests
- Failure to operate numerous aboveground petroleum storage tanks in accordance with the facility’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan
- Treatment or storage of a hazardous waste at an unauthorized location
- Failure to complete a written hazardous waste tank system assessment by a professional engineer
- Failure to use proper spill/overfill prevention controls and practices
- Illegal disposal of a hazardous waste
- Failure to provide employee hazardous waste training
- Failure to determine if wastes generated are a hazardous waste
- Failure to manage an Excluded Recyclable Material (ERM) waste stream in accordance with all applicable requirements
According to Matthew Kaufmann, Director of Hazardous Materials Programs for Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS), “From the evidence observed during the initial inspection in 2017, as well as subsequent follow-up inspections, we do not believe that there was or is an imminent threat to the public health of Contra Costa County residents.”
Hazardous materials and wastes that were improperly stored or disposed of at the facility included used oil, plating solutions, acidic and caustic solutions.
After USS-UPI, Inc. was notified about the alleged violations in 2017, the company took steps to cooperate and to dedicate additional resources towards environmental compliance.
“As part of its mission to care for and improve the health of all Contra Costa residents, with special attention to those most vulnerable to health problems, we take compliance with environmental laws and regulations very seriously,” CCHS Deputy Director Randy Sawyer said. “Community exposure to these chemicals, whether short term or long term, can and does have the potential to affect the health of residents of our county.”
The settlement was approved the Contra Costa Superior Court. Senior Deputy District Attorney Stacey Grassini prosecuted the case on behalf of the People.