PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Illinois-based Hydro Extrusion USA pleaded guilty Wednesday to venting hazardous pollutants from its aluminum processing facility in The Dalles, according to US Attorneys in Oregon.
The violation of the Clean Air Act, said Environmental Protection Agency crime investigator Scot Adair, negligently endangered company employees and citizens of The Dalles.
“The defendant knowingly and unlawfully violated environmental regulations, thereby exposing his workers and the local community to hazardous air pollutants,” Adair said. “The EPA, along with its state partners, is committed to holding companies accountable when they compromise the health of their employees and local communities.”
In a statement, Ethan Knight, chief of the US Attorney’s Office of Economic Crimes, said Hydro Extrusion USA released the material into the air by illegally melting contaminated scrap metal. According to court documents, the company used its The Dalles site to melt aluminum scrap in induction furnaces to produce reusable aluminum billets. Air emissions from these furnaces were allowed to escape the building without filtering, exposing employees directly to the pollutants, officials said.
Under the Clean Air Act, secondary aluminum sites must use “clean” aluminum scrap that is free of paint, lubricants or other coatings, officials said, adding that from July 2018 to June 2019 Hydro Extrusion USA violated those requirements by melting scrap that Coated with a mineral oil that produces hazardous fumes when burned. Hydro employees reported to authorities noticing excessive smoke in the building during this time, officials said.
The company reportedly saved about $466,000 from using the unclean product. Despite a notice from inspectors from the EPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Hydro Extrusion US continued to melt the unclean batch, authorities said. Knight said the Justice Department intends to hold companies like Hydro Extrusion USA accountable for their actions.
“No cost savings or competitive advantage is worth the risk to the health and safety of Hydro’s workers or community members,” Knight said. “We will continue to work closely with our partners at the EPA to ensure all businesses are following the rules.”
After cooperating with investigators, the company was charged with negligent endangerment on August 23, 2022. After a guilty plea, the company agreed to pay $550,125 before his sentencing, scheduled for April 24, 2023.