Ohio Attorney General sues over Sebring toxic waste site
Three men convicted on charges for their role in leaving hazardous waste at an industrial site in Sebring are now the target of a civil lawsuit filed by the Ohio Attorney General.
Richard Sickelsmith of Columbiana, Samual Hopper of Canton, and Brian Hopper of Alliance are named as defendants in a Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Civil Penalty filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Also named as a defendant is Sebring Industrial Plating, a facility owned by Sickelsmith until 2019 when the Hoppers purchased the property along Tennessee Avenue in Sebring, according to the complaint.
The facility began operations in 1957 as a contract plater that performed zinc electroplating of steel parts.
Attorney General David Yost alleges that the plant closed in 2021, leaving unlawfully stored hazardous waste behind.
According to the U.S. EPA, which began cleanup at the site in August 2021, 75 drums and totes, 50 small containers of hazardous waste, hundreds of aerosol spray cans, and approximately 30 open chemical vats were found at the site.
Part of the building’s roof collapsed causing the potential for vats of plating liquids to overflow, according to the EPA.
The cleanup included the removal of 20,000 gallons of hazardous plating liquids and the inspection of the surrounding soil. Some of the waste included cadmium which can cause cancer, hydrochloride acids which are highly corrosive, and chromium which, among other things, can cause a weakened immune system or death.
Yost contends that Sickelsmith stored 4,700 gallons of hazardous waste and the Hoppers stored 38,000 pounds of hazardous waste at the facility, allegedly violating hazardous waste regulations.
According to the complaint, the owners failed to comply with Ohio EPA orders issued in 2018 to move hazardous waste off the property, evaluate remaining waste, and submit to the Ohio EPA a closure plan for the waste units.
The eight-count complaint says that since January 26, 2019, failed to comply with EPA orders and asks Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum to enact penalties of $10,000 per day for each day of each violation.
The three men were indicted on criminal charges in 2021.
Sickelsmith pleaded guilty to solid and hazardous waste violations. The Hoppers pleaded guilty to attempted operation of a hazardous waste facility without a permit. All three were placed on probation.
In a statement Tuesday, the Ohio EPA said "there is some contamination known to be present in soils as well in some of the building components (e.g., interior walls) at the site. While the concentrations do not present an immediate threat, the site has been approved for federal Superfund Site Assessment Grants for a future site investigation.
"The containerized hazardous chemicals stored on the property were removed during the previous US EPA removal action," the statement continued. "Imminent environmental threats were addressed during the US EPA removal action. To date, Ohio EPA has no reason to believe imminent threats continue from this site. However, if during the course of the site investigation such issues are identified, they will be addressed, potentially through another US EPA removal action."