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California Waste Water Company Official Pleads Guilty to State Charges Related to a Hazardous Materials Fraud Scheme

On July 12, 2017, Santa Clara Waste Water Company (SCWWC) shift supervisor Kenneth Douglas Griffin, Jr., pleaded guilty in Superior Court of California, Ventura County, to conspiracy to impede enforcement by a Certified Unified Program Agency official, knowing failure to warn of serious concealed danger, interference with enforcement, and repeated violations of labor safety standards.
 
Griffin was indicted on August 19, 2015, for his role in a November 18, 2014, explosion at the SCWWC facility in Santa Paula, California. Griffin was the onsite shift supervisor at the time of the explosion, which was caused by the mixing and disposal of hazardous chemicals in a vacuum truck that was not rated to transport chemicals. SCWWC stored hazardous materials in excess of the amounts it was permitted to keep in its inventory, and company officials transferred these materials to an unsecured truck lot offsite prior to scheduled inspections. On the morning of the explosion, a Defense Logistics Agency contractor was conducting a scheduled inspection of SCWWC, and internal cleanup efforts were underway. Hazardous materials had been sucked from approximately 20 unlabeled chemical totes into a vacuum cargo tank trailer when the explosion occurred. Numerous employees, first responders, and others were injured either by the explosion or when they inhaled toxic vapors that developed onsite shortly afterward. SCWWC also disposed of hazardous waste by utilizing a wastewater pipeline to the city of Oxnard’s sewage plant and trailers to the Chiquita Canyon Landfill; neither facility was approved for the disposal of hazardous waste.
 
Griffin was involved in the transfer of hazardous materials to an offsite storage yard just prior to scheduled inspections; he failed to warn employees about a serious concealed danger at the plant, specifically, the presence of sodium chlorite; and he failed to provide sufficient communication regarding chemicals that were mislabeled or entirely unlabeled at the SCWWC site.
 
DOT-OIG conducted this investigation with the Environmental Protection Agency-Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.