by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Next time you pull into a gas station, you could be filling your tank with a deadly mixture of PCBs, toxic waste, solvents, and gasoline.

The General Accounting Office (GAO), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the FBI are investigating sophisticated “waste laundering” schemes in which toxic wastes and solvents are mixed with gasoline and diesel and industrial fuel. At least one of the schemes revealed connections to organized crime including personal and business associa­tions with members of La Cosa Nostra families. The practice of mixing waste and fuel apparently started in the 1970s when oil costs began rising. It accelerated when toxic waste disposal costs increased and the number of legal disposal sites decreased.

Since proper disposal of PCBs can cost as much as $1,000 a drum in the U.S., mixing the wastes and fuel can produce enormous profits. The practice also can produce potential health hazards. When the tainted fuels are burned, toxic emissions such as dioxins are produced. Millions of dollars also are lost because of engine failure and heating furnace breakdown.

Cases investigators have uncovered include:

* Several oil transport companies in Buffalo, NY, mixed polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and solvents with oil and gasoline and sold them to Canadian and U.S. cus­tomers.

* At least five million gallons of hazardous waste solvents, including benzene, chlor­oform, and methylene, were sent by rail from Ontario to Texas and mixed into gaso­line.

* In Oklahoma, the FBI investigated toxic wastes that were mixed with crude oil and sold to refineries. One refinery was Sinclair Oil whose senior vice president, C.W. Fink, warned that the problem could be more widespread.

* A Canadian oil firm and its president were charged with 13 criminal counts in Michigan in 1985 for selling fuel mixed with waste solvents; the case has yet to come to court (in early 1990).

Law enforcement efforts have been hampered by the lack of cooperation among agencies to share information. The GAO told Congress that although EPA had received information on a waste firm’s suspected organized crime connections, it would not share the information with GAO officials. While four congressmen introduced a bill in May, 1989, to stiffen enforcement efforts, the mass media have yet to discover this story. Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), one of the bill’s sponsors warned “Our own direct safety and public health may be jeopardized by this practice.”


SOURCE: COMMON CAUSE MAGAZINE 2030 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036, DATE: July/August 1989



COMMENTS: This is a story about a number of “waste laundering” schemes, involving PCBs, toxic waste, and solvents, which happened in Canada as well in the United States. And while the scam apparently crossed the border with ease, the press coverage of it did not. Andrew Porterfield, the investigative journalist who wrote the article for Common Cause, reports that the story appeared in Canadian newspapers from every province and was the lead story in Canadian national news broadcasts on television. However, the press coverage in the United States was significantly different. According to Porterfield, it re­ceived only very brief mention deep inside one Saturday issue of The New York Times. “Considering how toxic wastes in fuel oil and gasoline affects every U.S. citizen (as well as Canadians), is, this story deserved far more exposure,” Porterfield added.