ARSENIC IN CALIFORNIA ECOSYSTEM
Crystal Geyser Water Pleads Guilty to Dumping Arsenic into California’s Ecosystem
By: B. VanHoose
Photo: G. R. / People
The company that makes Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water has admitted to illegally handling hazardous wastes at its facility in Olancha, California. On Jan. 9, CG Roxane, LLC, the company behind the bottled water brand, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material. In a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court, the beverage-maker agreed to pay a criminal fine of $5 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The groundwater that CG Roxane sourced from the Sierra Nevada mountains in California contained naturally occurring arsenic, which it filtered out using sand filters.
“To maintain the effectiveness of the sand filters, CG Roxane back-flushed the filters with a sodium hydroxide solution, which generated thousands of gallons of arsenic-contaminated wastewater,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a press release.
The statement clarified that the case concerned the violations in handling and transporting the wastewater, and not the safety of the Crystal Geyser bottled water, which is sold nationwide in stores like Walmart. Representatives from CG Roxane did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
CG Roxane then released the arsenic-contaminated wastewater into a manmade pond for about 15 years, according to court documents. The dumping site was known as “the Arsenic Pond.”
The issue first came to the attention of local authorities in March 2013 when a sample of the pond showed arsenic levels at more than eight times the hazardous waste limit. In 2015, the company was instructed to remove the Arsenic Pond. The removal that was conducted that May “was done without the proper manifest and without identifying the wastewater as a hazardous material,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The arsenic-contaminated wastewater was ultimately transported to a Southern California facility that was not authorized to receive or treat hazardous waste,” read the press release. “As a result, more than 23,000 gallons of the wastewater from the Arsenic Pond allegedly was discharged into a sewer without appropriate treatment.”
The two companies that were hired to transport and treat the wastewater are scheduled to go on trial on April 21. If convicted, according to the Department of Justice, each company would face a maximum fine of $8 million. On the Crystal Geyser official website, the brand describes itself as a “good citizen and partner in each of the seven communities” where it produces the beverages.
The company also produces bottled water in Benton, Tennessee; Johnstown, New York; Moultonborough, New Hampshire; Mount Shasta, California; Norman, Arkansas; and Salem, South Carolina.
“We actively participate in supporting our communities, from providing excellent local employment opportunities, to community sponsorships and college scholarships,” reads the website. “All while protecting the natural surroundings, environments and habitats of our spring water sources.”