Despite Jail Time for
Dumping Toxic Waste
Gary Reopelle of Monsen Plating
DOUG OAKLEY / Berkeley Voice 10oct2007
Gary Reopelle, owner of of Monsen Plating, spent a month in jail for violating toxic waste laws. He says he's the victim of overzealous toxic avengers.
Mindfully.org note: With people like this handling such toxic chemicals, we'd be in a far greater mess than we're already in if we did not have regulations. Water treatment facilities are already having an impossible task of cleaning the water before discharging it to the rivers and oceans. For many chemicals, it is impossible to remove them from the water. And there are documented cases of water discharged from treatment facilities changing the sex of fish swimming in it.
A 67-year-old Berkeley man's month in jail for violating toxic waste laws is encouraging news for city and county officials who want more workplace whistle blowers to bring them environmental justice cases. But Gary Reopelle, a silversmith who has owned Monsen Plating on Adeline Street since 1964, said his conviction and time behind bars are the result of overzealous toxic avengers who likely will put him out of business very soon.
Reopelle spent 28 days in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in September for violating felony probation from a toxic waste dumping conviction in 2003. That conviction was the result of the whistle blower's actions.
"We are very eager to get whistle blowers to come to us about any business," said Nabil Al-Hadithy, hazardous materials manager for Berkeley. "We are encouraging them. This (whistle blower) was very nervous and without having him come to the city, we would have had a harder time catching (Reopelle)."
Reopelle remains indignant, even though he admits he was guilty of putting toxic waste, such as acid and heavy metals, directly into the sewer system when it should have been shipped off to a processing facility to make it inert.
He also admits to dumping toxic waste at Berkeley's garbage transfer station.
"It's Berkeley," Reopelle said. "I've been in business 40-something years, and they throw me in jail. I've had a nice little business here.
"They hire these inspectors right out of school and get someone who is anti-whatever it is and they go after you. That's what happened here. I'm bummed out." Reopelle landed in jail for violating his five-year felony probation in June, for failing to label acid treatment tanks, storing too much toxic waste on site, and not keeping logs on toxic-waste treatment procedures, Al-Hadithy said.
He is now on probation until 2010.
Reopelle repairs and replates antique items like swords, light fixtures and tea kettles.
The plating process uses large vats of acid, cyanide and metals like silver, gold, bronze and copper.
In 2003, an employee of his company alerted officials in Berkeley that Reopelle was putting acid and toxic waste directly into his sewer line.
A sting operation involving the Alameda County District Attorney, the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Fish and Game and Berkeley Police caught him in the act.
Inspectors also videotaped him dumping toxic waste mixed with sawdust at the Berkeley garbage transfer station.
Alyce Sandbach, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the original case and sent Reopelle to jail in September, said if jail is what it takes to clean up the environment, it's OK with her.
"Even though there are far more serious crimes in Alameda County like rapes and murders, the courts are not tolerating environmental violators and they are serious enough about it to put someone in jail," Sandbach said. "He was on notice that he could serve jail time. When there's no other way to get compliance, I don't feel bad about it. So I hope more people come forward."
Reopelle said the terms of his latest probation require him to hire an environmental consultant to make sure he follows regulations. That will cost him $1,000 a month.
"The regulations will put us out of business," Reopelle said. "It gets to a point that, hey, you're 67 years old, what the hell are you doing? This kind of business never hurt anyone. We restore grandpa's old tea pot."
Reopelle said he mixed some toxic waste in sawdust because he had heard that is a good way to get rid of it. He also doesn't think that sending toxic waste to the sewer treatment plant hurts anything (Al-Hadithy said it interferes with the process of treating human waste).
"People are taught that these chemicals are going to destroy the world," Reopelle said incredulously.
source: p.A1 13oct2007
From an earlier article in the San Francisco Chronicle we see the same attitude:
3 Feb 2007
Gary Reopelle, president of Monsen Plating & Silversmiths in Berkeley, calls himself "one of the last of the Mohicans" as a silver restorer. He learned his craft on the job when he joined Monsen Plating in the early 1960s, fresh out of the Navy. Reopelle says tastes have changed and, to put it bluntly, "young folks don't like silver no more!" The craftsman believes this lack of demand has winnowed the number of silversmiths doing restoration work, which is labor intensive and time consuming to perform properly.
Another factor discouraging silver restoration is the Environmental Protection Agency regulations dictating the storage, use and disposal of chemicals used in plating. "We are a small shop and we've operated within EPA guidelines for a long time," Reopelle says, adding that Monsen's longtime presence in Berkeley makes for even more stringent oversight. "We get inspected all the time."
For Reopelle, a typical repair job involves stripping and cleaning the metal, then removing any dents using a variety of dyes, hammers and dent-removal tools. Rhoten frequently makes custom tools for her restoration work, specific to the form and type of damage on an individual piece. The next step in the restoration process is to reproduce missing parts. Any items that need soldering are repaired, hand-polished and replated as necessary. Monsen's plating department houses six major tanks and 15 smaller tanks, all under the supervision of Reopelle's young partner, Jon Diamond.