Blue Bell man sentenced in toxic dumping scheme

A 52-year-old Blue Bell man has been sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison for environmental crimes after pleading guilty to falsifying records in order to release potentially contaminated water into Wilmington’s water treatment plant and dispose of toxic sludge elsewhere.

Lance A. Charen had faced two years, but pleaded guilty in June to two of 10 counts against him in a Delaware grand jury indictment.  Charen was a supervisor at International Petroleum Corp. of Delaware on Market Street in Wilmington.

Separately, the company pleaded guilty in February to similar charges and agreed to a total of $3.5 million in fines and restitution to the city.  The company processed used oil and hydrocarbon-containing waste. The product was sold as reprocessed petroleum.

Federal prosecutors say Charen’s scheme unfolded between September 2010 and January 2013. Charen was a branch manager and responsible for the handling of hazardous waste.

In one count, prosecutors say one of Charen’s jobs was to oversee monthly tests that sampled water being discharged, ultimately, into Wilmington’s wastewater treatment plant.  The plant then discharged into the Christina River.

Prosecutors say Charen instructed workers to not only pump cleaner water on those days, but to pump less of it.

“Industrial wastewater can pose serious threats to public health and the environment, so it’s imperative that managers of companies, especially ones providing environmental services, honestly treat and dispose of it properly and sample and report pollutant concentrations honestly,” said acting U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss. 

In another count, prosecutors say Charen falsified independent lab results showing that sludge accumulating at the bottom of large tanks contained a stew of potentially harmful chemicals such as benzene, barium, chromium, cadmium, lead, tetrachloroethene, and trichloroethene.

In that count, they say Charen ultimately was responsible for sending 27 truckloads, or 500,000 pounds, of the sludge to be disposed of at a cement kiln in South Carolina.  He falsified records to state the sludge was not contaminated.

However, the operator of the kiln conducted its own testing and became suspicious.  The company refused to take the material.

“By falsifying sampling results and hiding the fact that he was shipping ignitable and hazardous waste, the defendant put public safety and the health of the environment at risk,” said Jennifer Lynn, assistant special agent in charge of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Delaware. 

Charen’s case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.  Wilmington’s Public Works Department and Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control assisted.

He was jointly prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Harrell of EPA’s Region 3 and Assistant U.S. Attorney Edmond Falgowski.

Kerry Kalmach, an attorney representing Charen, could not be reached for comment.