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Polluted plant's owner arrested Repeat offender faces two federal charges

As a $300,000 Superfund cleanup continued at a Park Avenue plant with a long history of pollution problems, its owner was arrested Wednesday on federal charges that could land him in prison for up to five years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Littlefield said Ronald Jagielo, 46, of Medina, faces two felony charges of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in his operation of MRS Plating, 310 Park Ave.

A 28-page complaint accuses him of disposing of hazardous waste without a permit from January 2004 through November of last year.

Jagielo has been in trouble with the law before over environmental violations.

In 2000, Jagielo was hit with a personal fine of $4,000 and a year in prison for violating the federal Clean Water Act. Also at that time, the company was fined $90,000 and ordered to pay $30,421 in restitution to the City of Lockport for sewage violations.

That wasn't the first time MRS had drawn the attention of environmental investigators. In 1995, the company was fined $60,000 for discharging hazardous waste into the Lockport sewer system. Two years later, another federal investigation found 14 more waste discharge violations.

MRS was shut down last fall after the latest complaints of toxic spills. The Niagara County Health Department ruled the company a health hazard after finding "multicolored liquid puddles" on the property in late September, while a state Department of Environmental Conservation inspector found several violations of waste storage regulations.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigators noted a flow of greenish-yellow liquid into the parking lot of the neighboring Pies Furniture store.

Jagielo told the agents it was chromic acid, and a company employee, Doug Cummings, later told them it leaked right through the plant's wall and had been for two years, according to the court papers.

Another employee, Paul Priebe, told the EPA agents that when the chromic acid ran onto the furniture store's property, Jagielo would tell workers to sweep it back onto MRS property with a broom. Tests by the EPA showed the level of chromium in the greenish-yellow liquid was 23 times the regulatory limit.

A nearby homeowner, Robert Tomasduckas of New York Avenue, told the EPA that he saw Jagielo drive three drums out of the plant on a forklift in late September and empty them in the grass next to the Pies property. He said after a hard rain, chemical washed into his yard and discolored his grass and bushes.

Kevin Matheis, the EPA's on-site coordinator, said cleanup work began late last year and all the waste should be off the site by the end of May.

After that, soil tests will be conducted under the building. If more contamination is found, the 40-by-120-foot building could be demolished to get at it.

The company used to perform chromium- and nickel-plating operations.

Matheis said crews from WRS Infrastructure and Environment, the EPA's contractor, are working to remove chromic acid used to wash the plated metals. Some sulfuric acid and nitric acid also has been found in tanks.

Matheis said some acid waste from rinsing of the plated metals was spilled in the building or on the ground.

Much of the work is focusing on wooden walkways around the tanks, but the building itself may be contaminated from acid splashing on the walls.

"Some of the bricks are tinted, discolored. They look yellow in some instances," Matheis said.

Besides the acid in and around the tanks, the WRS crews are removing debris and sludge from sumps beneath the one-story building, which does not have a basement.

Matheis said the acid waste is being taken to a treatment facility in Ohio, and microencapsulated debris is being hauled to a landfill in Michigan.

Although WRS workers are often wearing safety suits, Matheis said air monitoring has concluded that the air at MRS is safe to breathe.

Before his arrest, Jagielo had been barred from the main shop at the cleanup site.

"He has been told to stay out of the main shop building," Matheis said. "He doesn't have a phone number. He appears periodically to pick up some files."

MRS could be billed for the cleanup, but Matheis said there doesn't seem to be much money there, describing the business as "marginal" before the shutdown.

"We're going to try to recover funds, but they don't look like a good candidate for recovery," he said.

"Jagielo said because of poor finances he was unable to regularly pay his utility bills and disposal cost for waste generated from the facility," the court complaint said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy set bail for Jagielo at $5,000 pending another court appearance Tuesday to determine who his defense attorney will be.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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