LAFAYETTE, La. — A Louisiana dry cleaner pleaded guilty last week to negligently causing and allowing the discharge of hazardous waste—perchloroethylene, also known as perc—into a publicly owned treatment works or sewer system, according to U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley.
Jason Prejean, 38, of Lafayette owns One Low Price Cleaners (OLPC) and entered the guilty plea on behalf of him and his Lafayette business.
At the hearing, Prejean admitted that he acted negligently in failing to ensure the proper and lawful disposal of wastewater containing perc and that he failed to train OLPC employees on the lawful disposal of perc waste. He also admitted that he had not used a disposal company since February 2007.
Investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) revealed that from December 2007 through May 2009, perc was improperly stored on-site at OLPC and that employees routinely poured perc wastewater down the toilet inside the store.
During emergency response to the site on May 27-28, 2009, citizens and employees of adjacent businesses were evacuated, and some were medically treated due to reported symptoms from exposure to perc fumes.
OLPC shared a common sewer system with businesses where traces of perc were found. Test results also revealed the presence of perc at the junction in which sewer waters from OLPC enter the city sewer system.
Due to misrepresentations by an OLPC employee, agents didn’t discover that employees had been storing perc in unapproved Rubbermaid containers until the second day of the emergency response.
Prejean also violated an approved local pre-treatment program maintained by Lafayette Utility System. OLPC was never issued a permit to discharge any amounts of perc into the sewer system.
“There are honest accidents and then there are crimes,” says Ivan Vikin, special agent in charge of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Division in Louisiana. “(Perc) is a toxic chemical that can cause headaches, nausea and unconsciousness. Exposure to very high concentrations can result in death. The defendant negligently dumped perc into the city sewer system for up to two years. Today’s guilty plea shows that anyone who deliberately puts public health and the environment at risk will be prosecuted.”
A sentencing date for Prejean is pending.