Oakland company focus of pollution investigation

March 1, 2012 7:07:33 PM PST
An Oakland metal plating company is in the crosshairs of a federal pollution investigation. The ABC7 I-Team learned exclusively that the plant was being raided and was there when it happened. The company has a record of doing wrong.

No one involved in this raid will talk on camera, but I've been able to piece together what's happened from sources. Investigators suspect that the company, ED Coat, is repeating violations that led to felony convictions and a huge fine under the Clean Water Act 10 years ago.

A task force with dozens of members from the federal EPA criminal investigation division, Cal/EPA, and the Alameda County District Attorney's Environmental Protection Division served a search warrant on e ED Coat Thursday morning.

The company, on Fourth Street in Oakland, performs metal plating on small machine parts up and on pieces as big as computer chassis.

Agents interviewed employees, sampled water coming out of the building, and tested nearby sewers.

Law enforcement sources tell the I-Team they suspect ED Coat was bypassing its internal waste water system and pumping dangerous metals straight into the public sewer system. The fear is that the metals could overwhelm the local waste water treatment plant causing it to fail, sending thousands of gallons of untreated sewage straight into the bay.

"The concern is when any facility discharges heavily toxic materials to the treatment plant, is that the treatment plant is going to lose its ability to treat not only that wastewater, but everything else it receives from the entire city," Jason Flanders, of San Francisco Baykeeper, said.

A similar investigation in 2001 found that ED Coat had installed bypass valves that diverted wastewater containing high levels of cadmium, chromium, copper, cyanide, lead and zinc straight to the sewers.

That case lead to a felony conviction for ED Coat owner Jerry Rossi and six months of house arrest. The company also had to pay a $385,000 fine, the most allowed under the Clean Water Act at the time.

Late Thursday, the I-Team spoke by phone with Lisa Rossi, the company's operations manager and Jerry Rossi's daughter. She denied that the company is dumping its waste water into the sewers. She says they've been working with East Bay MUD to make sure the company was in compliance and that it's been "a difficult and long battle."

There have been no charges in this case -- it's an ongoing investigation.


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