California Fire Department Sued Over PCBs in Waste Oil

The San Bernardino County Fire Department is being sued by an environmental contractor over the presence of PCBs in the department’s waste oil. The suit was brought in San Bernardino County Superior Court by Asbury Environmental Services doing business as World Oil Environmental Services.

As alleged in the complaint:

  • This lawsuit concerns the improper delivery of highly toxic restricted hazardous waste contaminated with polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs).
  • PCBS have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects on humans, including carcinogenicity and interference with the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.
  • PCBS do not readily break down once in the environment, remaining for long periods cycling between air, water, and soil.
  • They are also taken up into the bodies of small organisms and fish, leaving people who eat those fish or other small organisms at risk of exposure to bioaccumulated PCBS.
  • Both the federal government and the State of California highly regulate and monitor the use and disposal of PCBS. Under these robust regulatory schemes, any person disposing of PCBS must do so at registered and permitted facilities according to specified methods.
  • Plaintiff WOES is a licensed hauler of hazardous waste and regularly hauled waste for Defendant’s Household Hazardous Waste Program.
  • Defendant regularly delivered to Plaintiff loads of non-RCRA hazardous waste for Plaintiff to transfer, for disposal, and/or recycling.
  • As a fire department that regularly handles various oils and other materials that may include PCBS, Defendant knew or had reason to know that the oil that it delivered to Plaintiff for disposal was at higher risk of containing PCBs.
  • On or about November 7, 2023, WOES collected approximately 790 gallons of used oil from Defendant, located at 2824 East W Street Bldg., San Bernardino, California.
  • Eric Martinez, on behalf of Defendant, signed Service Order N0. 5770176, which described the waste as “Non-RCRA Hazardous Waste, Liquid (used oil/mixed oils)” with “state code 221.”
  • By signing the Service Order, Defendant expressly promised “the waste does not contain any PCBs.”
  • At the time of collection—as it does with all generators—WOES took retention samples of Defendant’s used oil.
  • On or about November 28, 2023, the lab tested the generators’ retention samples for PCBS. Defendant’s sample had a PCB concentration of more than 5 ppm.
  • On or about December 14, 2023, the lab tested the generators’ retention samples for PCBS. Defendant’s sample had a PCB concentration of more than 5 ppm.
  • The lab retested Defendant’s retention samples for PCBs and a laboratory report was produced on or about December 19, 2023. Defendant’s sample had a PCB concentration of more than 5 ppm.
  • On or about December 20, 2023, third-party Environ-Chem Inc. tested the generators’ retention samples for PCBS. Environ—Chem Inc.’s laboratory results again confirmed Defendant’s sample had a PCB concentration of more than 5 ppm.
  • Because of Defendant’s contaminated oil, WOES had to properly dispose of the contaminated used oil and then clean and remediate its equipment. The cost of such remediation was at least $341,405.80.

The complaint alleges breach of contract, breach of implied contract, negligence, and unlawful business practices. World Oil Environmental Services is seeking compensatory damages, treble damages pursuant to Health and Safety Code Section 25250.26(b)(1), and attorney’s fees.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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