Merced-area plating shop operators plead no contest to criminal charges related to hazardous waste

Operators of an illegal plating operation pleaded no contest to criminal charges related to the release and abandonment of hazardous waste, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control’s Office of Criminal Investigation announced Wednesday.

Bonnie Rita Cardenas pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor violation for failure to immediately report the release of hydrochloric acid. Ramon Alonzo Montes pleaded no contest to a felony charge for unlawfully dumping hazardous waste.

The terms of Cardenas’s plea include 50 hours of community service, three years of informal probation, reserved restitution, fines and fees. The terms of Montes’ plea include 120 days in jail, five years of informal probation, reserved restitution, fines, and fees.

According to a news release from the state agency, Montes formerly operated a plating facility at 19770 Bloss Ave. in Hilmar. After he stopped paying rent on the building and abandoned hazardous materials there, Montes sold his remaining plating chemicals to Cardenas, state officials said.

In moving those chemicals from the Hilmar site to a new location at 1851 Grogan Ave. in Merced, a 55-gallon drum of hydrochloric acid spilled onto the ground and entered a storm drain, according to authorities.

The state agency worked with the California Highway Patrol and Merced County Environmental Health Department on the investigation. OCI then referred the matter to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, which filed criminal complaints against Cardenas and Montes for violations of the California Penal Code and the California Hazardous Waste Control Law.

“Illegal disposal of hazardous wastes threaten the safety of the community,” said Enrique Baeza, a supervising criminal investigator for state agency. “Criminal charges were warranted for this reckless misconduct, and we are grateful for the convictions obtained by the District Attorney’s Office.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, hydrochloric acid is corrosive to the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Short-term inhalation exposure may cause eye, nose and respiratory-tract irritation.