Crime - Sacto 911

Woodland biomass firm to pay $4.22 million settlement involving hazardous waste disposal

A Woodland firm that burns wood fuel to generate electricity will pay $4.22 million as the result of a civil action that accused the company of falsifying records and disposing of hazardous waste on agricultural lands.

Yolo County Superior Court Judge Samuel McAdam ordered Woodland Biomass Power to pay for penalties, costs and remediation as a result of a of civil settlement in an environmental protection action filed by the district attorneys of Yolo, Solano and San Joaquin counties, according to a Yolo County District Attorney’s Office news release.

Woodland Biomass Power operates a biomass facility in Woodland that generates ash in the process of producing electricity. For years, the company claimed the ash was not hazardous, but the claim was based on faulty methods and, at times, falsified summaries of the test results for the ash, the release said.

The company’s own test results have shown that much of its ash had elevated levels of dioxins and constituted hazardous waste because of high pH levels and high concentrations and contaminants like arsenic, lead and copper, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The firm also provided the falsified records to various governmental entities, individuals and companies.

During the years that Woodland Biomass Power relied on falsified test-result summaries, tons of ash – some of which was hazardous waste – were disposed of on properties that were not authorized to receive hazardous waste, including some agricultural lands in Yolo County, the release said. At least one location was within 1,000 feet of the city of Davis.

Ronald W. Chapman, Yolo Couty public health officer, said in a written statement that after consulting with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District, he believes the health risk from the company’s past practices is very low regarding soil contamination.

“Regarding air contamination,” he said, “we do not have information to assess public health risk. Air sampling was not done during the use of the contaminated material. Going forward, I feel assured measures are being put in place to eliminate future risk.”

Investigation into the hazardous waste disposal activity in the case was complex and took years to complete, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said in a written statement.

Woodland Biomass Power cooperated in the investigation after the prosecution team discovered the fraud in early 2016, and the company has since re-evaluated its plant operations and improved its ash management practices, the news release said.

Under the settlement, the firm must pay $2.12 million in civil penalties, $850,000 to reimburse the costs of investigation and more than $1.25 million to clean up the one site where testing indicated hazardous materials are present in concentrations that exceed regulatory thresholds.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy