Toxic Trade News / 12 June 2009
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Workers say recycler dumped monitors
Electronics collected in free campaign not properly handled
by Karamagi Rujumba, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  Workers say they dumped electronics behind this building at 408 Finance St. in Homewood.

© John Heller/Post-Gazette
12 June 2009 – Some of the electronics collected through a free recycling campaign on behalf of several charitable organizations earlier this year were dumped on the property of a former auto repair shop in Homewood, according to workers for an Oklahoma recycling company.

The workers, Raymar Dawson and Jason Ivey, who were part of a crew of about 22 laborers that handled the electronics collected by Tulsa-based EarthEcycle LLC, say they dumped some of the electronics in the yard of an old car garage at 408 Finance St.

The electronics they dumped -- mostly broken computer monitors and televisions -- they said, are still piled up with other junk in the yard, which was initially used as a staging area by EarthEcycle.

"We would take the busted monitors and throw them out in the backyard," said Mr. Dawson, 27, who together with Mr. Ivey, 25,worked for EarthEcycle at locations in Homewood and Monroeville from early March to mid-May.

Allegheny County real estate records show the Homewood building and yard is owned by the 408 Braddock Avenue Land Trust, which is owned by David Lesser of Lawrenceville.

Mr. Lesser did not return calls for comment yesterday, but city and county records show the land trust he owns has not paid taxes on his Homewood property since 2005. Records also show the property has had a number of liens placed against it by the county and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority since 2000.

Both Mr. Dawson and Mr. Ivey, who said their job at EarthEcycle was to load the electronics on 53-foot containers, said that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspectors didn't know about the electronics that were dumped in the back of the Homewood facility.

"They made us hide the broken monitors when the DEP came around," said Mr. Ivey.

EarthEcycle, which is owned and operated by Jeff Nixon, 44, a former Allegheny County employee, faces a number of administrative charges by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which issued a complaint and compliance order against the company last Friday.

The company, which has so far partnered with six Pittsburgh area charitable organizations this year, is facing EPA administrative charges for violating at least seven hazardous waste management regulations, officials said this week.

Mr. Nixon declined to comment for this story.

Among its complaints, the EPA said that EarthEcycle shipped the electronics it collected as hazardous waste to other countries; failed to classify the electronics as hazardous waste; did not notify the EPA it was exporting electronics for reuse.

The agency, which gave Mr. Nixon 30 days to schedule a hearing and provide a written answer to the charges, also gave him a series of deadlines to draft a plan to properly dispose of the electronics.

Failure to comply may lead to EPA penalties of up to $37,500 for each day of continued noncompliance, in addition to any other penalties.

Mr. Dawson and Mr. Ivey said they were hired by Mr. Nixon through Craigslist for $8 an hour, which was paid in cash.

When Mr. Nixon partnered with the charitable organizations, which collected thousands of pounds of electronics for his operation, he promised to generate money for the charities by reselling the old electronics that were still usable.

What could not be salvaged, Mr. Nixon said, would be broken down and reprocessed by local companies and other smelters across the country.

But both Mr. Dawson, who lives in the North Hills, and Mr. Ivey, of Chartiers, said that what they did for EarthEcycle was not what Mr. Nixon promised the charities he would do with the electronics, much less recycle them.

"There was no testing [to check whether electronics were usable] going on, we didn't even have electricity in Homewood," Mr. Ivey said. Each container was packed with about 1,200 computer and TV monitors and CPUs, without packaging or wrapping the electronics, he added.

Mr. Dawson, who works for his father's landscaping business when they can get work, said he and Mr. Ivey were promised a full-time and permanent job when Mr. Nixon hired them.

They said they started having doubts about Mr. Nixon's operation when he paid them only in cash.

"He said he was withholding 18 percent of our pay for taxes, but he never gave us pay stubs to prove it," said Mr. Ivey, adding that he needed a pay stub to prove to his income-qualified day care program that he was employed.

"We thought we had a real job, but then [Mr. Nixon] started disappearing on payday and we couldn't find him," Mr. Dawson said. "We started seeing all these businessmen who came around looking for him, looking for their computers. And then one day, he just shut down the place."

Both men said Mr. Nixon still has not paid them for the last two weeks that they worked.

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