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Oil Chem Owner Sentenced for Flint Dumping

Thursday, May 27, 2021

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that President and owner of Oil Chem Inc., Robert J. Massey, had been sentenced 12 months in prison for violating the Clean Water Act.

The charges stem from illegal discharges of landfill leachate into the city of Flint sanitary sewer system over an eight-and-a-half-year period.

According to reports, on Jan. 14, Massey pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act in which his company, Oil Chem Inc, processed and discharges more than 47 million gallons of industrial wastewaters into Flint’s sanitary sewer system.

While Oil Chem was noted to have signed a permit in 2008 to discharge certain industrial wastes within permit limitations—as Flint’s sanitary sewers flow to its municipal wastewater treatment plant, where treatment takes place before the wastewater is discharged to the Flint River—the permit prohibited the dumping of landfill leachate waste.

(It can be noted that the treatment plant’s discharge point for the treated wastewater was downstream of the location where drinking water was taken from the Flint River in 2014 to 2015.)

The specific waste is formed when water filters downward through a landfill, picking up dissolved materials from decomposing trash. Upon signing the permit, Massey failed to disclose that Oil Chem had been and planned to continue dumping untreated landfill leachate into the city’s sewers. In addition, Massey also failed to disclose when Oil Chem started to discharge this new waste stream, which the permit also required.

Marilyn Nieves / Getty Images

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that President and owner of Oil Chem Inc., Robert J. Massey, had been sentenced 12 months in prison for violating the Clean Water Act.

In conducting these illegal dumps, Massey instructed employees of Oil Chem to begin discharging the leachate at the close of business each day, which allowed the waste to flow from a storage tank to the sanitary sewer overnight.

In total, from January 2007 through October 2015, Oil Chem was reported to have received 47,824,293 gallons of landfill leachate from eight different landfills, one of which was found to have polychlorinated biphenyls in its leachate. PCBs are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment.

As a result of Massey’s violations regarding the nation’s Clean Water Act, he was sentenced to 12 months in prison. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ann Nee and Jules DePorre of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan and ENRD Senior Counsel Kris Dighe.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jean E. Williams of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) and Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin of the Eastern District of Michigan thanked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division as well as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Law Enforcement Division-Environmental Investigations Section and Coast Guard Investigative Service for their work in this investigation.

History of Flint Water Crisis

Flint’s drinking water crisis began in April 2014, when the city chose to switch its water source from Detroit’s water supply to the Flint River as an interim solution while a pipeline to carry water from Lake Huron to the communities of the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority was being built.

Water from the Flint River was not treated with corrosion-control agents, and reportedly began to corrode the city’s aging pipes. Drinking water in many homes was contaminated with lead, leading to a public health crisis.

The state did not publicly acknowledge the possibility of lead contamination in Flint until September 2015; the city switched back to pretreated water from Detroit in October 2015.

By January 2016, the National Guard and state police started delivering bottles of water door-to-door. By this point, the crisis was estimated to cost more that $1.5 billion to fix, and already had reports of 43 people having found elevated levels of lead in their blood.

In September, a $9 billion water infrastructure bill was passed in the U.S. Senate, with hundreds of millions allocated for improvements in Flint, as well as other cities with potential drinking-water contamination hazards. When broken down, the bill allocated $4.5 billion for 29 Army Corps of Engineers projects and $4.8 billion for work on water infrastructure nationwide.

More specifically, the bill opened $100 million in federal funds for grants to help states deal with emergency situations related to drinking water; at the time, Flint was the only municipality fitting the criteria for the grants.

Another $70 million was allocated for subsidized loans to help with infrastructure projects, bringing the total funds available for those loans to $700 million, freeing up $20 million to forgive loans to communities dealing with major public health crises related to drinking water.

Through an internal investigation that concluded in October 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was reported to not have acted fast enough in its efforts to warn the residents of Flint about the lead contamination in its drinking water.

By March 2017, Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver wrote a letter to the EPA indicating that it would take a few more years for the city to be up and running with its on water treatment facility, a goal set for August 2019.  The letter had been a response to the state announcing that at the end of January and beginning in March, they would no longer provide subsides for Flint residents to help pay their water bills, after recent testing showed that lead levels were returned to federal standards.

In August 2018, a testimony was released by EPA official Miguel Del Toral, who blew the whistle on the lead-contamination crisis, stating that he told Michigan Department of Environmental Quality regulators in February 2015 that without anticorrosive treatment, the city’s drinking water would present a public-health threat.

The testimony that the federal agency brought up the lead issue more than six months before the state acknowledged the problem publicly came during a preliminary hearing for four former state officials facing felony charges related to the crisis.

A total of 13 state and local officials have faced charges that they ignored warnings and covered up potential contamination. Prosecutors have also alleged that local officials knew the water treatment plant that was being brought online to treat Flint’s water was insufficient, but that they went forward with the plan anyway.

By August 2020, the state of Michigan reached a $600 million settlement with Flint residents for the state’s role in the city’s water crisis. A summary of the deal shows that nearly 80% of the funds will go to children and minors. The settlement is one of the largest in the state’s history; it’s more than the $546 million that the state has paid out in settlements over the past 10 years.

After the settlement receives final approvals, the state will have contributed more than $1 billion to the relief and recovery efforts, according to the Attorney General’s office. Defendants in this agreement included those who were part of the state government with the problems occurred, including former Gov. Rick Snyder; however, it did not extend to private entities involved.


Tagged categories: Clean Water Act; Criminal acts; Environmental Protection; Government; Hazardous waste; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Wastewater Plants; Water/Wastewater

Comment from Pablo Reyna, (5/27/2021, 10:12 AM)

12 months incarceration for such a terrible offense is not nearly enough.that sentence is comparable for someone stealing a loaf of bread or someone's pet....

Comment from Pablo Reyna, (5/27/2021, 10:12 AM)

12 months incarceration for such a terrible offense is not nearly enough.that sentence is comparable for someone stealing a loaf of bread or someone's pet....

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