AG Gansler Secures Guilty Plea in Mishandled Mercury Case
Beltsville recycler admits to numerous hazardous waste violations
MD ( Jan. 18, 2012) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that Calvert County resident Glen Wright Smith, 50, has pled guilty to all 10 felony environmental violations filed against him for illegally handling and disposing of highly toxic mercury. Smith, of Owings, was the owner/operator of USA Lights, a Beltsville company that recycled fluorescent light bulbs. Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge William Mulford, II scheduled sentencing for February 29.
"The mercury was improperly handled, stored and discarded, posing a serious health threat to the warehouse workers and the environment," said Attorney General Gansler. "When done right, recycling protects people and property from toxic chemicals, while preserving our natural resources. When done wrong, this office will seek heavy fines and time behind bars in the name of those same people and the environment in which they work and live."
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) inspected Smith's warehouse facility in May 2009 and found numerous drums and boxes being used for disposal of spent mercury. The subsequent investigation revealed that none of the employees was provided either protective gear or training on how to properly separate and handle the hazardous mercury by-products as required by law. The employees also revealed that they did not even know how dangerous mercury was until inspectors informed them. Training was eventually completed in July 2009.
After MDE attempted to work with the company, the Attorney General's Environmental Crimes Unit was contacted in February 2010 and the subsequent investigation uncovered multiple examples of improperly stored mercury by-products and a layer of white dust surrounding the boxes and drums, suspected of being used to store crushed mercury from the recycling process.
In April 2010, Glen Smith abandoned the USA Lights facility, without cleaning or securing any of the on-site materials. The Environmental Crimes Unit executed a search and seizure warrant and took numerous samples from throughout the facility for testing. The vast majority of the results showed levels of mercury that exceeded acceptable limits and deemed hazardous to human health.
Hazardous mercury levels, such as those found at USA Lights, can have serious health consequences as it is inhaled as a vapor and absorbed through the lungs. Exposed individuals can suffer injury and illness ranging from skin irritation to tremors, neuromuscular damage, loss of cognitive functioning and memory loss. Mercury is a controlled hazardous substance for which there are strict handling, storage and permit requirements so that the State can monitor the substance.
The Court has been advised that the State is seeking incarceration as well as significant monetary penalties against Smith.
Attorney General Gansler thanked Environmental Crimes Unit Chief Michelle Barnes, former Assistant Attorney General Yvonne Brooks-Poole and Chief Investigator David Williams for their hard work on the case. The Maryland Department of the Environment assisted in the investigation.