A federal grand jury filed a seven-count indictment against the Chicago-based Aeron International Corp., formerly known as Diversified CPC International Inc., on charges it violated the federal Hazardous Materials Transport Act.
Felony charges were also filed against Steven Louis Sanchez, who was Aeron's plant manager in Anaheim, Calif., at the time of the incident. The case is scheduled to go to trial July 14.Mr. Sanchez, a former executive of the aerosol propellant manufacturer, could get $1.5 million in fines and 30 years in jail. He is charged with deliberately mislabeling a shipment that was later involved in a spill.
Both Mr. Sanchez and the company declined to comment.
"We're trying to send out a warning" against the practice of not identifying shipments of dangerous goods, said Carol Gillam, assistant U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. Aeron faces $3.5 million in fines.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, Aeron shipped ethyl mercaptan, a hazardous substance, without notifying the carrier that the shipment contained dangerous goods. The carrier was United Parcel Service, Atlanta, which normally does not accept hazardous materials for transport by air.
While the package was going through UPS' Ontario, Calif., air hub in October 1989, it was damaged and its contents were released. A total of 41 people were hospitalized from inhaling the fumes, and several passed out. None suffered permanent injuries. Ethyl mercaptan is an oderant added to propane or butane gas.
Mr. Sanchez needed to get the substance from Aeron's Anahiem, Calif., plant to Gardnerville, Nevada, the indictment alleged. Knowing that UPS refuses to carry hazardous materials by air, the indictment alleged, he ordered an employee to label the package as a valve.
A day before the incident, Mr. Sanchez was elected president of his industry's regional trade association, the Western Aerosol Information Bureau. Officials have taken note of his prominence in his industry and the impact the publicity from his prosecution might have on other potential violators.
The indictment is one of the few filed under the federal Hazardous Materials Transportation Act since the legislation went into effect in 1975.