Crystal Geyser bottler fined $5 million for diverting waste from illegal ‘Arsenic Pond’ into SoCal sewers

A child in Palo Alto drinks from a Crystal Geyser water in this May 3, 2008, file photo. (Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

A child in Palo Alto drinks from a Crystal Geyser water in this May 3, 2008, file photo. (Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

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A California company that produces Crystal Geyser bottled water was sentenced Wednesday to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $5 million fine for illegally storing and transporting hazardous waste from its Sierra Nevada facility, federal prosecutors said.

CG Roxane LLC pleaded guilty earlier this year to mishandling arsenic filtered out of its spring water at a plant in Olancha, some of which ended up in Southern California sewers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee also ordered the company to implement a program to better comply with environmental laws within three months.

Prosecutors say the company used sand filters to reduce the concentration of naturally occurring arsenic in the spring water to meet federal drinking water standards.

“To maintain the effectiveness of the sand filters, CG Roxane back-flushed the filters with a sodium hydroxide solution, which generated thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater,” the office said.

For about 15 years, CG Roxane dumped thousands of gallons of contaminated wastewater into a manmade body that became known as “the Arsenic Pond” along Highway 395 in Inyo County, investigators said.

Pond sampling by local water quality officials in 2013 found arsenic concentrations above the hazardous waste limit, as did subsequent sampling by state authorities and the company, prosecutors said.

State officials instructed the company to remove the pond, but that was done by two hired companies without identifying the wastewater as hazardous material, resulting in 23,000 gallons being discharged into a Southern California sewer without proper treatment, prosecutors said.

The companies hired to transport and treat the wastewater — United Pumping Services and United Storm Water, both based in the City of Industry — each pleaded guilty June 10 to four counts of negligently causing a violation of a pretreatment program requirement.

On July 29, the Southern California firms were each ordered to pay a $375,000 fine.

CG Roxane admitted to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material in January.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office statement noted that the investigation focused on handling, storage and transportation of CG Roxane’s wastewater, “not the safety or quality” of CG Roxane’s bottled water.

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