McWane, Employees, Indicted for Environmental Crimes

May 27, 2004
It sounds like a horror story a modern-day horror story. In the dead of night, employees of McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co. in Birmingham, Ala. allegedly acting under orders from their managers secretly dumped millions of gallons of potentially harmful, contaminated water into Avondale Creek over a period of several years.

But their actions weren't so secret after all. The federal government has caught up with McWane Inc., and employees or former employees James Delk, Michael Devine, Charles "Barry" Robinson and Donald Bills. They were indicted May 25 by a federal grand jury for environmental crimes connected with the operation of the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co. in Birmingham.

James Delk, 37, is a former vice president and general manager at the McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co., and currently works at a McWane facility in New York. Charles "Barry" Robinson, 65, of Birmingham, is the vice president for Environmental Affairs at McWane. Michael Devine, 44, is a former plant manager at the Birmingham facility, and currently works for McWane in New Jersey. Donald Bills, 56, of Birmingham, is plant engineer at the Birmingham facility.

Former McWane employee Donald Harbin agreed to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to violate environmental laws connected with the operation of the Birmingham facility. Harbin, of New Jersey, oversaw maintenance activities at McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co. during a period when the company was allegedly discharging processed waste water into Avondale Creek in Birmingham in violation of a federal permit. The maximum sentence for an individual convicted on a conspiracy count is 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

McWane is a Delaware corporation, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., which operates iron foundries at various locations across the country. The company maintains its innocence. Said company spokesperson Michelle Clemon, "We are disappointed the Justice Department has taken this action, and we will demonstrate the innocence of the company and its employees."

The U.S. Department of Justice isn't swayed by the company's protestations of innocence, however. "Today's actions paint a picture of alleged systematic discharges of process waste water into a creek and efforts by company officials to hide these discharges from state and federal regulators," said Thomas L. Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This marks the second indictment of a McWane division in the past 6 months. The Department of Justice takes seriously its responsibility to enforce the nation's environmental laws and to prosecute to the fullest extent those who seek to break them."

U. S. Attorney Alice H. Martin said the indictment charges that a conspiracy existed between McWane Inc. and its highest positioned employees at the McWane Cast Iron Pipe co. to violate the Clean Water Act, to make false statements to the EPA and to obstruct justice. "It is critical that we enforce criminal environmental laws against alleged corporate wrongdoers and their employees, so that Birmingham residents are protected from the harm caused by a company putting pipe and profits above the public's welfare," Martin added.

The 25-count indictment charges that the defendants caused industrial process wastewater from the operations of McWane Cast Iron Pipe Co. in Birmingham to be discharged into Avondale Creek in violation of a federal permit and took steps to conceal the illegal discharges from state and federal regulators. Count 1 of the indictment charges each of the defendants with conspiracy to:

  • Defraud the United States by obstructing EPA's enforcement of federal environmental laws
  • Violate the Clean Water Act
  • Make false statements in a matter within the jurisdiction of the EPA.

Counts 2 through 11 of the indictment charge McWane, James Delk and Michael Devine with violations of a federal permit by discharging process wastewater into Avondale Creek through storm drains. Counts 12 through 22 charge McWane and James Delk with additional violations of the Clean Water Act, each month from March 2000 through January 2001, for discharging wastewater in violation of a permit. Count 23 charges McWane, James Delk and Michael Devine with violating the Clean Water Act by discharging process wastewater that exceeded permit limits for oil and grease. Count 24 charges McWane and Charles "Barry" Robinson with making a materially false statement and representation to the EPA in response to an EPA request for information under the Clean Water Act. Count 25 charges McWane with obstruction of justice for providing false and misleading information to the EPA in April 2000.

The maximum sentence for an individual convicted on the conspiracy or false statement counts is 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum sentence for an individual convicted of the Clean Water Act charges is a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $50,000 per day of violation, and by imprisonment for not more than 3 years. For McWane Inc., the maximum penalty for the conspiracy and Clean Water Act charges is a fine of the greater of $500,000 or $50,000 per day of violation, and probation of 5 years. On the false statement or obstruction charges, the maximum penalty for McWane Inc. is a fine of $500,000 and 5 years probation.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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