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L.A. prosecutors charge metal recyclers with environmental crimes

Los Angeles city prosecutors Wednesday took the unusual step of filing criminal charges against the owners of three metal recycling businesses, accusing them of polluting the environment and putting the public at risk by illegally stockpiling hazardous waste and releasing toxic chemicals into the water.

“These facilities pose a significant threat to human health and the environment,” said Patty Bilgin, who heads the Los Angeles city attorney’s environmental justice unit. “These are toxic chemicals. We don’t know where they are going.”

The conditions they found in some of the facilities were “inherently dangerous,” Bilgin said. The criminal complaint said inspectors found puddles of oil on the ground and stacks of refrigerators and radiators that had not been properly drained of hazardous chemicals.

Prosecutors charged Jong Uk Byun, who owns Central Metal on South Alameda Street, with eight misdemeanor counts, including allowing water contaminated with copper, lead and zinc to pour off his facility. Geovedy and Waihner Cifuentes, owners of CDL Scrap Metal on Mateo Street near downtown, face nine counts, including mishandling hazardous waste, illegally discharging polluted chemicals and operating without a permit. Don Monroe, the owner of C&M Metals on 24th Street, was charged with 13 similar counts.

If convicted, each business owner faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and the potential for one year in jail.

The owners of the businesses could not be immediately reached for comment.

Recycling scrap metal, much of it shipped to factories in Asia, is a booming business in South Los Angeles, and many environmental groups have complained that some of the businesses violate environmental laws with impunity.

The city attorney’s office filed the charges after numerous agencies, including the Los Angeles County’s hazardous materials division and the water board, conducted inspections in February.

-- Jessica Garrison

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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