McWane Division Hit with $4.25 Million in Criminal Fines for Worker Death, Environmental Violation

An Anniston, Ala., foundry company has been sentenced to $4.25 million in criminal fines and community service after pleading guilty in a federal court to a violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and to a willful OSHA violation that led to the death of a worker.

The guilty pleas and sentence resulted from an EPA and FBI investigation of worker safety and environmental violations at Union Foundry Co., a division of Birmingham, Ala.-based McWane Inc., from December 1997 to August 2000.

Union Foundry produces ductile iron waterworks fittings at its Anniston, Ala., facility, according to McWane's Web site.

In one of two guilty pleas, McWane's Union Foundry division admitted to a willful OSHA violation that resulted in the death of maintenance employee Reginald Elston on Aug. 22, 2000.

From March 17, 2000, until Aug. 22, 2000, according to federal authorities, the foundry allowed its employees to work on a conveyor belt that did not have a safety guard mandated in OSHA's safety regulations. Elston was crushed to death after he became caught in a pulley of the conveyor belt.

Union Foundry also pleaded guilty to knowingly violating the Resource, Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which gives EPA its authority to regulate the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste by allowing employees to illegally treat hazardous waste at its facility without a permit.

The manufacturing process utilized by the facility involved melting ferrous scrap metal in a water-cooled cupola furnace. The melting process generated significant amounts of dust, containing lead and cadmium, according to federal authorities, which were emitted into the air and are considered hazardous waste under RCRA. The dust was captured in large filtration structures known as "baghouses." McWane then allowed its employees to treat the contaminated dust at the Union Foundry facility without a permit, federal authorities say.

"This is the second time that a McWane division has pleaded guilty to charges that allege systematic indifference to safety and environmental laws," Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division Kelly Johnson said. "This case is especially egregious as it involves the death of an employee. We are committed to ensuring that environmental crimes in the workplace, particularly those that endanger employees, receive harsh punishments that will deter others from such practices."

McWane's Union Foundry division was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $3.5 million and serve a period of probation of 3 years.

The Union Foundry facility currently is subject to a number of consent decrees issued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Violations of any of these consent decrees or environmental regulations and laws could constitute a violation of probation for the parent company.

In addition, McWane's Union Foundry division was sentenced to pay $750,000 for a community service project approved by the Justice Department and directed toward worker safety or environmental remediation in the Anniston area. If approval is not given by the Justice Department, McWane's Union Foundry division will be required to forfeit the $750,000 as an additional criminal fine.

"The safety of every single employee should be first in a corporation's mind, and McWane's willful violation of OSHA safety regulations resulting in a death must be punished," U.S. Attorney Alice H. Martin said. "[The Sept. 7] guilty plea and sentencing holds McWane accountable for the safety of its workers and environmental harm done in Anniston."

Senior Trial Attorney Daniel Dooher, Senior Trial Attorney Christopher Costantini of the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and Assistant U. S. Attorney Robert O. Posey prosecuted the case, which was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

McWane Has History of EPA Violations

In March 2005, Tyler Pipe Co., a division of McWane, pleaded guilty to submitting a false statement and violating the Clean Air Act. Tyler Pipe agreed to pay a criminal fine of $4.5 million and is subject to a probation period of 5 years.

As part of its settlement, Tyler Pipe also must undertake significant improvements at the facility as a condition of probation. The improvements for the Tyler Pipe facility are estimated to cost as much as $24 million.

In June 2005, in Birmingham, Ala, McWane and former vice president and general manager of the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co. James Delk were convicted of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act and of violating the Clean Water Act by allowing discharges of industrial process wastewater into Avondale Creek in Birmingham through storm drains in violation of their permit.

Charles "Barry" Robison, the vice president for Environmental Affairs at McWane, also was convicted of submitting a false statement to the EPA. Sentencing for this case is scheduled for Oct. 25.

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