The bottled water company pleaded guilty to two federal criminal charges and may have endangered both groundwater and wildlife

Plastic Bottles
Mali Maeder

You head to the store, pick up a few cases of Crystal Geyser and don’t think twice. Maybe you don’t even notice which water you’re buying, figuring that bottled water is bottled water. You may even try to reuse, reduce, or recycle the plastic from the bottles, thinking the environmental impact may end there.

What you might not know: it’s not just those plastic bottles that pollute; sometimes, it’s the process of making bottled water that’s dirty.

Case in point: CG Roxane, the parent company of Crystal Geyser, has pleaded guilty to federal felony criminal charges for illegally storing and transporting hazardous waste (in this case, arsenic-laden wastewater) at its bottling site in Olancha, California, three hours north of Los Angeles.

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The arsenic was in wastewater that was a byproduct of cleaning the filters used to make drinking water. For 15 years, CG Roxane flushed the arsenic-laden wastewater into a manmade pond, creating an arsenic concentration more than eight times the hazardous waste limit and thus posing a risk to groundwater and wildlife.

Believe it or not, CG Roxane did not disclose the arsenic-laden water as hazardous to two Los Angeles-based waste removal and transport companies it hired in May 2015, and did not provide a proper manifest. The wastewater was eventually taken to a Southern California facility that was not authorized to receive or treat hazardous waste, and consequently, over 23,000 gallons of the arsenic-containing pond water was released into a sewer without proper treatment. The company will pay a criminal fine of $5 million, but the full repercussions of their pollution are yet to be understood.

CG Roxane pleaded guilty to two felony charges, one count of unlawful storage of hazardous waste and one count of unlawful transportation of hazardous material in the court of United States District Judge S. James Otero, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for February 24. United Pumping Services, Inc. and United Storm Water, Inc., the City of Industry-based entities that were hired to remove and transport the water, will head to trial on April 21. If convicted, they will receive a statutory maximum fine of $8 million.

The question is, and may still be for decades of study—how did the arsenic pond and sewage disposal affect, and how will they continue to affect, our groundwater and wildlife? The CG Roxane plant is nestled between the Sequoia National Forest and the Coso Range Wilderness Area, just three miles from Olancha Creek and one mile from Cartago Creek. The Olancha Creek passes through Olancha and flows into Owens Lake, which hosts a rich variety of birds, despite having been drained to provide water for the L.A. Aqueduct. The precise location of the 23,000 gallons of sewage disposal is as yet unknown.

The safety and quality of Crystal Geyser bottled water are not in question, though other bottled water brands have been caught with unsafe levels of arsenic.