Crystal Geyser bottled water maker admits to dumping arsenic in Californian water

The California company that produces Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring bottled water pleaded guilty to illegally dumping water that contained arsenic. Parent company CG Roxane LLC and two contracted firms were previously charged in 2018 with failing to disclose information relating to the presence of arsenic in wastewater that was being transported from the bottling plant in Olancha, California.

A court case last week led to the firm agreeing to a $5 million (S$6.7 million) fine for the transportation and storing of hazardous waste, federal prosecutors said.

According to authorities, the waste was created by the filtration of arsenic from Sierra Nevada spring water at CG Roxane LLC’S facility in Owens Valley.

G Roxane was accused of dumping the wastewater into a manmade pond over a period of around 15 years. The court’s record states the company made an “arsenic pond” in an isolated part of eastern California between Death Valley and the Sequoia National Forest and failed to reveal that the water siphoned out of the pond and transported to the water treatment facilities contained the deadly heavy metal.

In 2013, local authorities who sampled the local water quality found it to contain arsenic concentrations above the hazardous waste limit. Further sampling by state authorities and the company confirmed the presence of arsenic, say prosecutors.

CG Roxane was advised by state officials to remove the pond. In an attempt to do so, the company hired two other companies, failing to disclose to either that the water was classified as hazardous waste, resulting in 23,000 gallons (87,064 litres) of it going into a sewer without proper treatment, prosecutors said.

Last week, CG Roxane entered the plea to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material, the US Attorney’s Office said. The $5 million fine was also included in a recently filed plea agreement.

A statement from the US Attorney’s Office noted that the investigation was focused on the handling, storage and transportation of CG Roxane’s wastewater, “not the safety or quality of CG Roxane’s bottled water.”

Prosecutors also say the company did use sand filters to reduce the arsenic concentration that naturally occurs in spring water to meet federal drinking water standards.

The office said, “To maintain the effectiveness of the sand filters, CG Roxane back-flushed the filters with a sodium hydroxide solution, which generated thousands of litres of arsenic-contaminated wastewater.”

United Storm Water, an industry-based company providing environmental and lake-draining services, and United Pumping Services, a City of Industry waste-hauling corporation, were also charged in the 16-count indictment for violations that are alleged to have taken place between March and May 2015.

Along with CG Roxane, the two companies were charged in 2018 and await trial with a date set in April. US District Judge S. James Otero set a hearing for Feb. 24.