Defunct biotech company sued over hazardous dumpingBy Joshua Melvin
Two leaders of a now-defunct Burlingame biotech company are being sued for dumping hazardous chemicals left over when the business closed its doors in 2008.
After deciding to shut down Metrigen Inc., owners Nathan Hamilton and Thomas Brennan paid a moving company $200 to dispose of several sealed cardboard boxes in December 2008, said Deputy District Attorney Todd Feinberg, who filed the civil suit Thursday in San Mateo County Superior Court.
The boxes, which had been at the company's Mitten Road location, contained vials and jars of substances that bore warnings like "explosive," "toxic" and "do not expose to water," Feinberg said. On Dec. 29, 2008, the moving company left four boxes in a cardboard recycling bin behind a San Bruno business.
"It's extremely dangerous behavior, and that is why the DA's office has taken this case very seriously," Feinberg said. The district attorney's office is seeking $660,000 in civil penalties as well as an order from the court commanding the men not to dump hazardous waste.
An alert employee at the business noticed the boxes, which were sitting in one or two inches of water, and called authorities. Emergency crews tested the substances and realized at least 115 of them contained hazardous waste.
Another 34 containers might also hold toxic chemicals, but still require more testing, Feinberg said. Labels on the containers led investigators to Metrigen, which worked in the field of genetics.
The dumping happened just days after Brennan, a Bay Area resident, and Hamilton, who lives in Nevada, got a $5,100 estimate for legal disposal of the chemicals, Feinberg said.
Defense attorney Karl Morthole, who is representing both men, said Brennan did not feel the substances were hazardous waste when he boxed them up. Morthole said his client made a mistake and "feels badly" about what happened. He said authorities recovered the chemicals before they leaked.
"They didn't go into the environment and hurt anyone," said Morthole, adding the men hope to settle the case. Brennen and Hamilton no longer work in the biotech industry.
Copyright ©2010 Bay Area News Group. Published 12/03/2010.