On April 27, 2009, a New Jersey jury convicted Atlantic States Cast Iron Pipe Company, a division of McWane Industries, and four managers, of a plethora of environmental and worker's safety violations, including illegally disposing of contaminated fluids into storm drains, illegally burning paint waste, and covering up those offenses. The sentence included an $8 million fine for the company and a 48 month monitored probation period, and federal prison terms for the managers ranging from 30 to 70 months. The plant, which produces iron pipes used for municipal infrastructure, had several large storm drains that ultimately flowed into the Delaware River. The storm drains carried the petroleum-based hydraulic fluid used in the production process. The fluid is considered a pollutant under the Clean Water Act and any discharges of such must be controlled by a strict permitting process. An individual wishing to discharge this substance must first obtain a national discharge permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). However, the company did not obtain one for the purposes of discharging the production fluid.
The pipe finishing process, during which the pipes were painted, created large volumes of waste paint. The primary disposal method was to burn it--in violation of the regulatory operating permit and the Clean Air Act. The company subsequently made efforts to hide this practice when NJDEP personnel would visit for inspections. In addition, workers' safety violations were numerous resulting in the loss of one worker's eye and the death of another.
The prosecution of Atlantic Pipe remains one of the most significant cases--and longest federal trials with testimony lasting seven months--of environmental crime in recent history. Interestingly, the case was originally brought to light by articles in the New York Timesand a documentary on PBS Frontline. As the New York Times described it, the company had a "...Dickensian corporate culture that put production and profits ahead of all other considerations."
Environmental and work-place related crimes committed by companies such as Atlantic Pipe, create far more economic damage, personal injuries, and deaths than all other street crimes combined. However, these types of crimes are rarely prosecuted. Unfortunately, due to lack of enforcement, we are unaware of how many companies are operating in the same manner. We also do not know the extent of the damage in this case because the Delaware River watershed is a major water source for various metropolitan areas in the northeastern United States, toxins that could potentially affect millions of people (although, this probably pales in comparison to the number of oil spills that have taken place in the Delaware river in the last several decades). Green criminology aims to focus on the dark figure of environmental crime, probably the darkest of crime figures.
This is the last in a three-part series on green criminology in honor of Earth Day (April 22).