WellgreensCA, Inc., a San Diego company engaged in extracting oils from cannabis, along with the owner and a manager, pleaded guilty in federal court today to offenses related to the dumping of hazardous waste in San Diego County in early 2018.
In pleading guilty, WellgreensCA, Inc. and owner Lunar Loussia admitted that, as a company engaged in the business of extracting oils from cannabis, Wellgreens generated various wastes, including 55-gallon drums of waste ethanol. The waste ethanol generated by Wellgreens was a federally regulated hazardous waste that exhibited the characteristic of ignitability, because it had a flashpoint of less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Loussia admitted that he agreed with R.U., a contractor, and others to dispose of the drums of waste ethanol generated by Wellgreens, knowing that the ethanol in the drums given to R.U. for disposal was a waste that had the potential or substantial potential to be harmful to others or to the environment.
The defendants acknowledged that as a large-quantity generator of hazardous waste, Wellgreens was required to transport all hazardous waste, including the waste ethanol, from their site accompanied by a uniform hazardous waste manifest. Loussia admitted that on February 7, 2018, he caused R.U. to pick up three full drums of waste ethanol for disposal from the Wellgreens facility on Trade Street, knowing that no hazardous waste manifest was prepared or provided to R.U., as required by law, to track the shipment. The defendants acknowledged that R.U. disposed of the drums of waste ethanol behind a business located at 1350 Hill Street in El Cajon.
Nadia Malloian further admitted that on May 17, 2018, employees of Wellgreens caused R.U. to pick up four full 55-gallon drums of waste ethanol from the Wellgreens facility on Trade Street for disposal. Those employees were aware at the time that no uniform hazardous waste manifest was prepared or provided to R.U. to accompany the waste ethanol during transportation.
The drums transported by R.U. from Wellgreens were abandoned at 1201 Avocado Avenue in El Cajon, near a Vons supermarket, along with paperwork associated with Wellgreens, including laboratory reports. An employee of Vons contacted the El Cajon police, and the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health Services (DEH). Both agencies responded and DEH conducted sampling and took photographs. The employee of Vons also contacted the laboratory named on the paperwork to attempt to learn the identity of the owner of the drums, sending photographs of the drums and associated paperwork in an email.
The laboratory forwarded the message from the employee at Vons to defendant Malloian on May 22, 2018. Malloian admitted that on May 23, 2018, after learning that agents of Wellgreens CA, Inc. had knowingly transported the drums of waste ethanol to the location on Avocado Avenue in El Cajon without a manifest, as required by law, she assisted them with the specific purpose of hindering their apprehension by helping to arrange the removal of the drums from the location on Avocado Avenue in El Cajon.
As part of the plea agreement, the company agreed to pay a $45,000 fine and restitution of $26,482 for the costs of emergency response and restoration of the sites where the hazardous waste was abandoned.
“Crimes against the environment are crimes against all of us,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “We will not allow our communities to become dumping grounds for harmful chemicals because companies refuse to follow the rules.” Grossman praised prosecutor Melanie Pierson for her dogged commitment to protect the environment and EPA investigators for their hard work on this case and others like it.
“The defendants knowingly ignored legal requirements for the proper transportation and disposal of hazardous waste, putting local communities in the San Diego area at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “This case demonstrates that EPA will hold accountable those who intentionally violate laws that endanger human health.”
The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on August 3, 2021, at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes.