Penn Valley Fire staff uncovers hazardous waste violations at routine inspection |

Penn Valley Fire staff uncovers hazardous waste violations at routine inspection

Keri Brenner
Staff Writer

After a five-month investigation, a Penn Valley business has been ordered to comply with efforts to resolve 24 instances of illegal storage and treatment of hazardous waste with potential for "great risk to its employees and its facility," Nevada County officials said.

"This was significant enough that we had to issue them an order that they had to come into compliance," said David Huff, a program manager for the Nevada County Environmental Health Department. "It is a severe public safety concern."

He said the health of the employees was in danger from the materials, but declined to provide more specifics.

Penn Valley Fire Chief Gene Vander Plaats said the violations at Serra Corporation offices at the Bitney Springs industrial complex were initially uncovered during a routine inspection in November by Penn Valley Fire Marshal Clayton Thomas.

"There are nine buildings out there," said Vander Plaats of the industrial complex, which also includes an art school. "It used to be called the Silicon Valley of Penn Valley in the '80s, but that idea ended with the dot-com bust."

According to the case report, Serra Corp. employees were fabricating parts using a method that generated aluminum dust, Vander Plaats said.

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The dust was being mitigated with water, but that combination, in turn, generated hydrogen, which is potentially flammable and toxic to breathe.

"The hydrogen was the biggest concern because of the potential for explosion and the potential for breathing it in," he said.

Vander Plaats said the potential for explosion was dangerous not only for employees, but also for the immediate surrounding community.

After the first visit, Thomas contacted Nevada County Environmental Health inspectors.

A Penn Valley team and county inspectors returned numerous times over the next five months to encourage the compliance efforts.

On a subsequent visit, Vander Plaats said, employees told the team that they found the liquid aluminum dust-hydrogen mixture had expanded and leaked out of a barrel container, spilling the hazardous material.

No one was present at the time, since the office was closed, but the potential for toxic exposure and/or an explosion had been temporarily intensified, Vander Plaats said.

No permits were obtained for construction modifications to the building, Vander Plaats said.

In addition, the company had not updated its Materials Safety Data Sheet, required for hazardous materials handling.

"I'm very proud of what our staff has accomplished," Vander Plaats said, referring to the compliance effort and the ongoing mitigation of a potential threat.

Huff, who oversees a section called the Certified Unified Program Agency, said the business signed the consent order with the county last week.

The business now has a tentative 30-day deadline to come into full compliance, Huff said.

He said the deadline could be extended if needed.

Huff said the 24 violations were in three of the six CUPA areas, including electronic reporting of hazardous waste, hazardous waste storage and hazardous waste treatment.

CUPA Inspector Andrea Saras was the lead investigator in the case.

Huff said there are penalties or fees associated with the enforcement action.

Details on the penalties were not yet available, he said.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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