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Companies indicted after lead, cadmium found in fertilizer

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Four companies and three executives were indicted Friday on charges they schemed to dispose of potentially toxic heavy metal waste by mixing it with fertilizer shipped to Australia and Bangladesh.

The indictment alleges 1,000 tons of dust containing lead and cadmium was shipped illegally from the Gaston Copper Recycling Corp. in Gaston to Stoller Chemical Co. Inc.'s fertilizer plant in Charleston County last fall.

There some of it was mixed with other materials to make the 3,000 pounds of fertilizer shipped overseas.

``Essentially, all the parties stood to gain financially from the transaction,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Hagood.

Gaston Copper saved money on disposing of the dust, from its smokestacks, Hagood said. The dust also contained some zinc, which Stoller needed for the fertilizer, and using the dust also saved that company money, he said.

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``I know of no legitimate reason lead or cadmium would be in a fertilizer,'' said Lewis Shaw, a deputy commissioner of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Lead poisoning can stunt growth and diminish intelligence in children. Cadmium can cause liver disease. Shaw said the metals in the fertilizer eventually would be absorbed by plants and eaten by people.

Greer Tidwell, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the Australian shipment was impounded. Another shipment is being stored in the port of Chittagong in Bangladesh, which doesn't have an impoundment law.

``We really can't say today what will happen to that material,'' Tidwell said.

Hagood said the dust shipped from Gaston had as much as 30 percent lead. He did not say how much lead was in the fertilizer shipped abroad but ``it was well in excess of regulatory limits.''

He said Stoller, based in Houston, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and the Charleston County plant closed in February.

Also indicted were Gaston Copper's parent firm, Southwire Corp. of Carrollton, Ga., and Hy-Tex Marketing Inc. of Beaufort, S.C. The indictment says Gaston Copper paid Hy-Tex about $54,000 to process the dust and Stoller bought it from Hy-Tex for $50,000.

A second, unrelated indictment charges Stoller with unlawful transportation and disposal of hazardous waste in March and April 1991. The company allegedly dumped lead- and cadmium-laced waste in a wooded area near the plant.

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Stoller plant manager Robert D. Weaver, if convicted of all counts, could face up to 20 years in prison and a $1.75 million fine. Hy-Tex president Arthur G. Heinel and Southwire employee Bruce E. Betterton could face seven years and fines of $500,000. The corporations face maximum fines of $500,000 for each count.

Stoller's phone in Houston was disconnected and there was no answer at Weaver's Charleston residence late last Friday. Jerry Stoller, an owner of the company, said regulators knew that a product containing zinc, cadmium, lead and arsenic was handled at the plant, The (Charleston) Post &; Courier reported last week.

Gaston Copper officials did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. Betterton said he had been advised by his attorney not to comment.

Heinel's attorney, W. Brantley Harvey, said Heinel made sure he had Stoller's permit to process hazardous waste and Gaston's description of the material before making the deal. Harvey said his client also had the proper state paperwork and approvals.

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