Owner of Oil Chem Inc. Pleads Guilty to Violating the Clean Water Act

The president and owner of Oil Chem Inc. pleaded guilty in federal court in Flint, Michigan, to a criminal charge of violating the Clean Water Act stemming from illegal discharges of landfill leachate — totaling more than 47 million gallons — into the city of Flint sanitary sewer system over an eight and a half year period. 

Robert J. Massey, 69, of Brighton, Michigan, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis in the Eastern District of Michigan. Sentencing has been scheduled for May 14.  

Oil Chem, located in Flint, processed and discharged industrial wastewaters to Flint’s sewer system. The company held a permit issued by the city of Flint under the auspices of the Clean Water Act, which allowed it to discharge certain industrial wastes within permit limitations. The city’s sanitary sewers flow to its municipal wastewater treatment plant, where treatment takes place before the wastewater is discharged to the Flint River. The treatment plant’s discharge point for the treated wastewater was downstream of the location where drinking water was taken from the Flint River in 2014 to 2015.

According to an agreed upon factual statement in the plea agreement filed in federal court, Oil Chem’s permit prohibited the discharge of landfill leachate waste. Landfill leachate is formed when water filters downward through a landfill, picking up dissolved materials from decomposing trash. Massey signed and certified Oil Chem’s 2008 permit application and did not disclose that his company had been and planned to continue to receive landfill leachate, which it discharged to the sewers untreated. Nor did Massey disclose to the city when Oil Chem started to discharge this new waste stream, which the permit also required. Massey directed employees of Oil Chem to begin discharging the leachate at the close of business each day, which allowed the waste to flow from a storage tank to the sanitary sewer overnight.

From January 2007 through October 2015, Massey arranged for Oil Chem to receive approximately 47,824,293 gallons of landfill leachate from eight different landfills located in Michigan. One of the landfills was found to have polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in its leachate.  PCBs are known to be hazardous to human health and the environment.

“The Clean Water Act is our Nation’s law for protecting the quality of the waters of the United States, and the health of people who rely on those waters.  The criminal conduct here violated the Act and Oil Chem’s permit,” said Jonathan D. Brightbill, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Robert Massey ignored clear legal prohibitions and requirements in the interest of generating more revenue for his company. He knew better and should have done better. The outcome of this case will deter others, and hopefully chart a new course for this company.”

“Protecting Michigan’s water is one of the most important and sacred things we can do,” said Attorney Matthew Schneider, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “The actions of the defendant were done with total disregard for the Flint River and the environment. Fortunately for the people of Flint, these contaminants did not end up in their drinking water, because the discharge point was several miles downstream of the drinking water intake. This case should stand as a warning to other businesses that they will face criminal charges for this kind of pollution.” 

“The defendant knowingly ordered the discharge of over 40 million gallons of landfill wastewater, ultimately to the Flint River, putting the environment at risk,” said Jennifer Lynn, special agent in charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Michigan. “Today’s plea demonstrates that anyone who intentionally violates the law will be held responsible for their actions.”  

The Justice Department thanked the EPA’s Investigation Division as well as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Law Enforcement Division-Environmental Investigations Section, and Coast Guard Investigative Service for their work in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Senior Counsel Kris Dighe of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ann Nee and Jules DePorre of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.

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Author: January 14, 2021

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