AIKEN - The owner of an Aiken business that refurbishes airplanes will spend two years in federal prison for dumping toxic chemicals into the Aiken wastewater system, authorities said Tuesday.
John C. Harrington, 61, the owner of Legends Aircraft Refurbishing, formerly known as Harrington Industries, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Charleston after pleading guilty to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, violation of the Clean Water Act and violation of the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act, according to a release from U.S. Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr.
Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Emery Clark said there was no evidence that Mr. Harrington's acts posed an immediate health hazard, but said that if every business followed the same disposal practices, "the cumulative impact would just be horrible."
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Tom Berry said the agency began an investigation into the facility, located near the Aiken Municipal Airport on Forward Court, in June 1997 after receiving a tip from an informant.
Prosecutors said Mr. Harrington ordered employees to dump corrosives used in paint stripping, including phenols, methylene, chloride, cadmium, chromium and lead, down a sewer system manhole on the site. The dumping occurred from 1997 to late 2000, when a search warrant was served at the location, Mr. Berry said.
An employee at the company, Dennis Gunnels, pleaded guilty in April 2003 to violation of the Clean Water Act and received 24 months of probation, Mr. Clark said.
A message left at the company for Mr. Harrington, who has 45 days to report to prison, was not returned Tuesday.
Mr. Berry, of the environmental control department, said the dumping was more of a threat to the natural habitat than humans, but added that long-term dumping could contaminate groundwater. The agency has found no evidence that the dumping created a health hazard.
"This is something the federal government and we in the state take very seriously," Mr. Berry said.
"Even though it may not get a lot of notoriety, these types of crimes are just as serious and the courts take a very dim view of those who willfully pollute the environment."
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.