Englewood warehouse raided by ICE, EPA
Computer recycling firm featured on '60 Minutes' in Nov.
by David Montero and Julie Poppen, Rocky Mountain News
24 January 2009 – Federal agents on Friday swarmed a warehouse belonging to Executive Recycling, an Englewood company linked in a televised report to the dumping of toxic electronics components in a Chinese town.
Agents with the Environmental Protection Agency and Immigration Customs Enforcement arrived with a sealed search warrant before noon and were hauling boxes out of the warehouse located along the 3200 block of South Platte River Drive.
"All I can tell you is that it's part of an ongoing investigation," said Lori Hanson, EPA special agent in charge.
Carl Rusnok, spokesman for ICE, said his agency was acting in support of EPA and that it is "responsible for enforcing U.S. export laws."
Executive Recycling president Brandon Richter could not be reached for comment, though he responded to the allegations brought forward in a 60 Minutes piece broadcast in November.
He called that report "absolutely unfair."
The 60 Minutes piece by reporter Scott Pelley said the CBS news show tracked a shipment of electronic waste from Richter's firm to a Hong Kong harbor. Inside the shipping container, Pelley's report said, were a load of cathode-ray tubes, or CRTs, from computer monitors. CRTs are loaded with lead.
According to the report, the shipment was intercepted by Hong Kong customs, flagged as waste, and sent back to Executive Recycling.
The report included a classic 60 Minutes moment, with Pelley confronting Richter with photos of the shipping container at Executive Recycling and asking him why a waste shipment wound up in Hong Kong.
"I have no clue," Richter told Pelley.
Richter contended the shipping container in question was loaded with hundreds of working TVs and computer monitors - $6,200 worth - ordered by a woman in Vancouver, British Columbia, to be shipped to Hong Kong. Richter provided a copy of an invoice with the order.
The equipment had been tested, and the computers had their memory cleaned by Executive Recycling, a key part of the firm's business, said Richter and his vice president, Tor Olson, during a tour of the plant.
But, according to 60 Minutes, it arrived as waste. Richter said he was baffled.
Documents supplied by Richter list a woman named Karen Zhang of Vancouver as requesting the shipment. Adding to the puzzle, documents with Zhang's name describe the contents of the containers as "plastic scrap."
Richter said he believes that description was used as a way to get the shipment through customs. But that doesn't explain why the container appeared to be filled with CRTs instead of TVs and computer monitors.
Some competitors and watchdog groups believe Executive Recycling has been a knowing violator of the rules.
Henry Renteria-Vigio, owner of Sheridan-based Next Generation Inc., a competitor of Executive Recycling, said he shared warehouse space with Richter for six months in 2007 and was alarmed at what he saw.
Standing in the parking lot of the Executive Recycling warehouse Friday, he declined to provide specifics but said shipping toxic materials to other countries was "giving our industry a black eye."
Sarah Westervelt, e-Stewardship director for the Basel Action Network in Seattle, an activist group that monitors the disposal of electronic waste overseas, reacting to Friday's raid said she was happy to see what she believes to be the EPA enforcing a federal rule on the disposal of cathode ray tubes.
The rule, which went into effect in January 2007, has not been actively enforced, she said.
"It's illegal for many countries to accept leaded glass from the United States," she said. "The United States has been sending its toxic waste to developing countries for years. It's time we take more responsibility than that."
The network, called BAN, said it tracked 21 shipments leaving Executive Recycling for developing countries, including Peru, China, Vietnam and the Ivory Coast, between November of 2007 and March 2008. In eight cases, authorities sent the containers back to their original ports because they contained illegal hazardous waste, according to BAN.
Marjorie Griek, executive director of the Colorado Association for Recycling, said there is a push in Colorado to get legislation passed that would try to make sure electronics recycling happens safely.
"We want electronics recycling done in a fashion that is responsible and environmentally safe and one where we're not exporting our waste to other countries," she said.
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