On July 25, 2017, Walter James Mitzel, chief executive officer (CEO) at Santa Clara Waste Water Company (SCWWC), pleaded no contest in the Superior Court of California, Ventura County, to misdemeanor violations for failing to update a business plan within 30 days, failing to update a hazardous materials inventory, interference with enforcement, and violation of labor safety standards by failing to provide personal protective devices to employees. Mitzel was sentenced to 36 months’ probation and ordered not to personally engage in any certifications to public agencies concerning monitoring worker safety to chemical exposures in the workplace; uniform hazardous waste manifests; hazardous materials response plans; or the collection of samples for the purpose of demonstrating compliance with local, State, and Federal permits and environmental laws. In addition, he paid $350,000 in restitution at the time of his plea.
In August 2015, Mitzel was indicted for his role in the November 18, 2014, explosion at the SCWWC facility in Santa Paula, California. The explosion was caused by the mixing and disposal of hazardous chemicals into a vacuum truck that was not rated to transport chemicals. The explosion caused over 1,000 gallons of chemicals to spill, resulting in a fire that set off a series of explosions. Toxic smoke blanketed the area around SCWWC, causing everyone within a mile to evacuate and everyone within a 3-mile radius to shelter in place, as well as the closure of an elementary school and Highway 126. Numerous employees, first responders, and others were injured either by the explosion or by inhaling toxic vapors.
DOT-OIG conducted this investigation jointly with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.