Worker fell into basin of acid, hazardous materials discharged into street, sewer
TACOMA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today filed criminal charges against a Tacoma man and his company accused of discharging hazardous substances into the street and sewer near his industrial truck wash, and allowing an employee to fall into a basin of dangerous hydrofluoric acid, putting him in danger of serious injury.
The Attorney General’s Office charged Ryan Lewis with two felony counts of defrauding a public utility, two gross misdemeanor counts of unlawful discharge of hazardous substances, and one gross misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment.
“Protecting the natural resources of Washington state is one of my highest priorities as Attorney General,” Ferguson said. “If you endanger our environment and Washington workers, my office will hold you accountable.”
The charges are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Lewis owns Cleaner Pressure Washing, LLC, which he founded in Tacoma in 2011. The business used various hazardous materials, including hydrofluoric acid, in the washing process. Lewis is accused of improperly disposing of highly acidic and zinc-laden water, illegally connecting to city water, and endangering an employee.
Inspectors from the City of Tacoma have repeatedly counseled Lewis on steps to bring his facility into compliance. After multiple inspections by the city and the state Department of Ecology, the truck wash was closed this year.
Sampling uncovered discharge to the sanitary sewer line — which should only contain treated water — that far exceeded legal limits for pH and zinc.
On Jan. 29, 2015, inspectors observed wastewater overflowing in the street, which also measured outside the legal limit for pH. Inspections in February and March of that year showed wastewater continued to be discharged above pH limits.
In addition, on May 8, 2015, a city inspector saw the facility control room flooded with highly acidic water, wastewater draining into a roadside ditch — and witnessed a worker falling into an open catch basin filled with hydrofluoric acid. The inspector helped the employee get to an eye wash station, and fortunately the employee suffered only bruises. Hydrofluoric acid exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose and throat, eye and skin burns, rhinitis, bronchitis, fluid buildup in the lungs, and, if absorbed through the skin, cardiac arrest.
The City of Tacoma eventually barred all discharges from the facility and cut off its water supply. However, on Jan. 2, 2016, a passing city employee saw a Cleaner Pressure Washing Truck filling a 275-gallon tote with water from a fire hydrant without a permit.
The felony counts each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine; the gross misdemeanor charges of unlawful discharge of hazardous substances carry a maximum of 364 days in jail and a fine of $10,000 per offense; the gross misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case at the request of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office. Assistant Attorney General Bill Sherman is the prosecutor.
Ferguson has made prosecuting environmental crimes a priority of his administration. Since 2013, he has brought environmental prosecutions leading to 14 criminal convictions, and restitution orders totaling in excess of $700,000.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov