Two years ago, the storage management of Pond Springs Storage in Austin, Texas, had a rental unit where payment was in arrears for six months. Renters behind in their payment aren’t anything unusual in this business. However, when they opened the storage unit, they found something very unusual — almost two dozen 55 gallon drums full of a strange liquid.
The storage facility management did the safe thing and called in the hazmat crews. They hauled off the barrels and eventually identified the liquid as a toxic acid that was so strong that even breathing it put people at risk.
Texas has a ‘cradle to the grave’ waste policy. If a business generates waste, they are responsible from the point it is generated to the point when it reaches disposal. And it looked like the method of disposal of the toxic liquid was to abandon it in a rental unit.
The investigation discovered how the abandoned barrels got in the storage unit. The toxic liquid had been transported from a business located in Brenham that manufactured circuit boards. The business owner, Christine Biese, admitted that she paid a man to get rid of the waste. He turned around and paid a homeless man in Austin to drop the barrels off at the storage unit.
The District Attorney’s Environmental Protection Unit prosecuted the case against Biese. Friday, she pleaded guilty in hazardous waste transport, was fined $50,000, placed on a one-year deferred adjudication, and ordered to pay $15, 138.86 in restitution.
There are several ‘take away’ concepts from this incident that would benefit owners and managers of self storage facilities. If, by any chance, you see containers of questionably liquid stored in any of your units, be sure to call authorities to check to see if it is hazardous waste material. Be very careful around them so that you do not inhale any fumes or get any of the liquid on your skin.
Another ‘take away’ is to always pay attention to what people are moving in and out of their storage unit. While it may be impossible to see absolutely everything that everybody is moving, be observant of what you do see. Do not hesitate to have a friendly, non-threatening chat with customers when you see items that look suspicious. If you see someone bringing in large 55 gallon drums, that should be a red flag to check and see what they contain.
Make sure that your contract specifically says that renters cannot store hazardous materials. When people rent units from you, be sure that you specifically cover items that can and cannot be stored in their unit.
“Business pleads guilty to toxic acid in storage unit.” KVUE News; 23 March 2012.
“Conviction in hazardous waste transport.” KXAN News. 23 March 2012.