116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Toxic waste from a former Monticello circuit boards manufacturing plant may have been flowing into Kitty Creek for more than a decade before the Environmental Protection Agency was alerted.
Riddle Inc. manufactured printed circuit boards for electronic devices from 1972 to 1991. Chemicals used in the manufacturing process included raw copper sulfate, copper with ferric sulfate, sulfuric acid with alcohol, nitric acid, sodium hydroxide, lead tin, cyanide and formaldehyde.
Toxic waste was stored in drums and other containers inside a deteriorating building located about 400 feet from Kitty Creek, which flows into the Maquoketa River. The creek has flooded the building several times in recent years.
Doug Herman, Monticello city administrator, said owner Gene Riddle, 74, had stored waste drums and containers inside the 14,000-square-foot building since the business opened.
Neither Herman nor EPA officials know how long waste could have been spilling into the creek, but Kitty Creek flooded in 1993, 2002 and 2009.
In 2009, officials determined, floodwaters reached about 3 feet inside the building and moved the storage drums, which were corroded, rusted and dented, according to criminal information filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court.
Riddle was charged and pleaded guilty in November for violation of the Clean Water Act, and the company was charged with knowing storage of hazardous waste without a permit.
Herman said the building has remained vacant since the business closed in 1991. Riddle had told city officials in 2009 he planned to renovate it. About nine months later he decided against it and said he would donate the property to the city to be used as green space, a park and a trail.
Because of the condition of the building and what was inside, Herman called the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to investigate. The building was falling down and deteriorated, and the roof was in “rough shape,” he said.
“It was bad ... and we didn't know at that time if (the products were) harmless or not,” Herman said.
The DNR conducted chemical testing in September 2009 and found more than 200 drums or containers of suspected hazardous waste.
“EPA was then called in, and we collected samples of the waste during a site assessment (in November 2009),” said Susan Fisher of Kansas City, Kan., on-scene coordinator. “Many of the drums were in poor condition for storage use, and there were over 200 containers of unknown chemical waste.”
The EPA determined Riddle was storing at the site 3,776 gallons of waste that was hazardous because it was corrosive, ignitable and/or toxic, according to an action memorandum.
The wastes found at the plant are defined as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, commonly referred to as the Superfund law, said Dianna Whitaker, EPA spokeswoman from Kansas City, Kan. They pose a threat if released into the environment.
The Superfund program, which is money set aside for environmental cleanup by Congress, pays for such removals, Whitaker said. The cost of the Riddle Inc. cleanup, which started in July and was completed in August, is about $273,200 so far and will likely grow as receipts continue to come in.
“It's not the worse we've seen, Whitaker said. “There have been some which costs millions of dollars.”
Since Riddle was criminally charged, he will be responsible for restitution, and that amount will be decided at a federal sentencing hearing not yet scheduled.
The government, as part of a plea agreement, is asking for Riddle to pay $273,261 in restitution and complete 50 hours of community service - instead of a one-year prison term for the misdemeanor charge.
The EPA's Fisher said soil samples were taken in October to ensure everything hazardous was removed.
Herman, Monticello administrator, said the city will be responsible for removing asbestos in the building and for demolition. The city will accept ownership of the property when it receives confirmation from the EPA.