Sebring Industrial Plating faces toxic waste crimes

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Shown here is Sebring Industrial Plating along West Tennessee Avenue in Sebring, which last year discovered it housed at least 38,000 pounds of hazardous waste, according to Ohio EPA officials. Arrest warrants were issued in May 2021 against the operators of the now abandoned industrial workshop.

[Editor’s note: This story was initially published on MahoningMatters.com on May 11, 2021. It was republished on May 9, 2022.]

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Arrest warrants have been issued for the operators of a now derelict industrial store, who are accused of illegally storing tens of thousands of pounds of hazardous waste in the dilapidated building on the outskirts of a residential neighborhood .

They now face felony charges and possible jail time.

Sebring Industrial Plating is a dilapidated approximately 600 square foot garage that has long stood vacant at the edge of a residential development along West Tennessee Avenue. Inside are thousands of gallons of hazardous waste that can seep into neighboring properties.

The once thriving business fell into disrepair years ago and was targeted for cleanup by the state and federal EPA, but records show the violations – some tied to the company’s former operator – have mostly gone uncorrected for years.

During a warranted search of the 0.12-acre site in late March, Ohio EPA investigators found at least 38,000 pounds of hazardous waste, some of which had been at the site since 2016, according to a notice of violation filed. at the end of last month. It’s 19 tons. To store less than half, a hazardous waste license is required.

Village attorney Gary Van Brocklin on Monday charged operators Samual L. Hopper Jr., 24, and Brian Andrews Hopper, 22, both of Sebring, along with former company operator Richard Sickelsmith, 63, of New Waterford, with charges. to operate a hazardous waste facility without a permit and to store hazardous waste in a facility without a permit. The company itself is also named as a criminal defendant.

The Hoppers have not been seen at the site since at least January, Van Brocklin said.

Sebring Area Court Judge Joe Schiavoni issued arrest warrants for all three ahead of their Thursday preliminary hearings in that court, records show.

“I can’t really comment except to say they polluted the place,” Van Brocklin said. Mahoning account Monday. “We’re asking the US EPA to clean it up.”

Sebring Industrial Plating has been identified as one of 27 US EPA superfund sites in the Mahoning Valley. Superfund sites are contaminated places that require long-term rehabilitation.

Toxic chemicals found

Among the findings reported in the EPA’s April 28 Notice of Violation against Sebring Industrial Plating:

  • Corrosive and/or chrome waste was found in seven tanks associated with the company’s former plating line. Solid chrome was also found on the ground around these tanks. Chromium is extremely toxic, according to the US EPA. A type of chromium compound can cause cancer when inhaled.
  • At least five 55-gallon containers contained corrosive, chrome or cadmium waste. Cadmium is also considered highly toxic, according to the EPA. It is known to cause long-lasting lung failure when inhaled and is a suspected human carcinogen.
  • Cadmium was also found in the building’s decommissioned sewage treatment tank and floor sump.

Investigators found, in total, about 8,000 gallons of liquid waste once used in the plating process, Van Brocklin said.

There are also holes in the roof of the building, which allow precipitation to enter inside.

Van Brocklin, who was hired less than two years ago, said he did not know if any materials had leaked from the site, which is surrounded on all sides by residential properties. Cleanup orders issued by the EPA director at Sickelsmith in December 2018 indicate that an “undetermined quantity of unknown liquids” leaked from the building the previous September and ended up on adjacent properties and in the system. village storm drain, prompting an emergency response from the EPA.

The village fire chief also expressed concern about the property.

“We fear a fire. We’re concerned about a lot of different things, and we’re trying to get this on the fast track to the US EPA,” Van Brocklin said.

2021-05-10 jmd sebring industrial veneer b 1140x641.jpg
Shown here is Sebring Industrial Plating along West Tennessee Avenue in Sebring, which last year discovered it housed at least 38,000 pounds of hazardous waste, according to Ohio EPA officials. Its operators have been charged with crimes. (Justin Dennis | Mahoning Matters)

‘It’s too dangerous’

The neighbors who spoke with Mahoning account on Monday, firefighters said they regularly check the site. Officials have urged them to call the police if they see site operators returning.

Some didn’t know what was hiding behind the garage door all those years ago. Others, like Patricia Wilson, were well aware of this. Her property line is a few yards from one of the site’s underground storage tanks, a few yards from where she is trying to grow blueberries.

“It has to go. … They need to clean this place up. It’s too dangerous,” said Wilson, who has lived in his West Tennessee Avenue home for six years.

She said she meets the inspectors every time they visit the site. Inside, she saw spray cans stacked at least 15 feet high, she said.

“It’s scary living here because you don’t know what’s going on,” Wilson said.

A longtime neighbor – who asked not to be named – said some of the nearby properties suffered runoff from the two acid pits that once stood on site. She wanted to plant flowers and a vegetable garden but “they said it might not be advisable”.

They sought PPP funding

Despite claims from neighbors in West Tennessee that the site has been inactive for a long time, Sebring Industrial Plating was one of several recipients of Paycheck Protection Program loans, according to ProPublica. The company received approval for a $7,510 loan in August from the Huntington National Bank to cover payroll costs for three employees. The status of this loan, however, was not disclosed.

The business declared itself as a “new business” less than 2 years old. Records for the Ohio Secretary of State show it was first formed in 1965. Sickelsmith then assumed the agency in 2014. Records show Sickelsmith turned the company over to Samual Hopper in March 2020.

Sebring Industrial Plating’s five parcels along West Tennessee Avenue have more than $35,000 in delinquent property taxes between them, according to Mahoning County Auditor records.

Court records show that several banks have recently won civil claims or garnishments against the company for several years, some totaling tens of thousands of dollars.

If convicted on both counts, the Hoppers could each face two to four years in prison and fines ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, Van Brocklin said.

Following the March inspection, village authorities also charged the Hoppers with theft of services, for allegedly stealing electricity from the site. These charges are still pending.

Each then posted $4,000 bond and was released from the Mahoning County Jail.

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, the courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and the University of Pittsburgh.

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