According to a press release from the United States Department of Justice, the Southern Union Company was charged with illegally storing the hazardous chemical Mercury. Southern Union Company is the former owner of the New England Gas Company which is alleged to have committed the illegal activity.
Authorities allege that the Southern Union Company used to work with an environmental company to remove Mercury from homes built with natural gas regulators that contained the chemical. These homes were built prior to 1960’s, the time frame during which the United State Government began to regulate use of the chemical.
The company contracted with the environmental company to remove the regulators; the contract between the companies expired in 2001. However, the U.S. Justice Department claims that the New England Gas Company continued to remove the regulators.
The government agency alleges that the company stored the contaminated regulators in a building that was vacant, insecure, and in varying degrees of disrepair. The building was located at the company’s Tidewater facility located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The department alleges that the building’s insecurity allowed it to be breached several times by thief’s and homeless people.
Some of the contaminated regulators were allegedly stored by Southern Union employees in plastic Kiddie Pools, according to the indictment. The company is also accused of storing liquid Mercury in the vacant building. The liquid Mercury was stored inside of containers including glass jars and a plastic jug.
The indictment alleges that three juveniles broke into the building in September of 2004. The youths allegedly took several vials of liquid Mercury to a nearby apartment complex and spread the toxic chemical on the ground. The youths also allegedly broke containers filled with liquid Mercury while still inside the building.
The Justice Department claims that puddles of Mercury remained on the floor of the building for three weeks after the incident. Once an employee discovered the spill, Southern Union made arrangements to have the toxic chemical removed from the building. However, the company is accused of failing to notify the authorities including the Pawtucket Fire Department and the Rhode Island State Fire Marshall that a toxic waste spill had occurred.
Southern Union employees allegedly raised safety concerns at several company meetings but the company reportedly took no action to correct the problem. Southern Union employees also made arrangements on several occasions for the Mercury to be removed from the facility, but records show that the company did not follow through with the removal, instead continuing to store the chemical at their facility.
The penalty for knowingly storing toxic materials such as Mercury without a permit is a maximum of $50,000 per day of violation. Southern Union is accused of storing the chemical without proper permits for 762 days the maximum penalty for which is $66,850,000. The company also faces a maximum fine of $500,000 for failing to report the Mercury spill to authorities.
The Department of Justice took care to note that allegations are only allegations and individuals charged with crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
U.S. Department of Justice