Suspect accused of illegally dumping hazardous waste

Lonnie Earl Perkins, 54, is charged with three counts of hazardous waste and one count of water pollution after an investigation at this pond led to his arrest.

June 17, 2011 8:04:15 AM PDT
A slimy, dangerous mess dumped in a retention pond, and investigators say hundreds of thousands of gallons of this stuff has been poured in areas across the city. Police say the suspect they've arrested was hauling tankers of hazardous waste, and pouring it down storm drains. These are eight dump sites investigators have found in northwest Harris and Waller counties.

This isn't the first time the suspect, Lonnie Earl Perkins, has faced illegal dumping charges. He was convicted of illegally dumping solid waste in 1997. But this time, his arrest is triggering an investigation into the company he works for, New Energy Fuels -- a company that advertises that it is "saving the world" with its bio-diesel fuel.

It was a complaint from tenants in the west by Northwest Industrial Park in northwest Harris County that triggered the investigation. Someone had dumped hazardous materials into a retention pond there.

Industrial park tenant John Jamjoz said, "Somebody dumped about a thousand gallons of cooking oil in there and the smell is horrific."

But it wasn't just plain cooking oil. It killed all the fish and burned skin on contact.

HPD Officer Stephen Dicker said, "We have some results of the lab tests of tylene and some other chemicals that are carcinogenic."

The Houston Police Department, working with Harris and Waller counties found as many as eight illegal dump sites, and last Saturday arrested Lonnie Earl Perkins in the 8500 block of Golden Spike in northwest Houston, allegedly dumping an oily substance into the city of Houston storm drain from a 6,500 gallon tanker truck. He's now facing three hazardous waste charges and one water pollution charge.

But Perkins may not have been acting alone -- police are now investigating his employer. New Energy Fuels in Waller makes and sells bio-diesel, a supposedly "greener" alternative to diesel gasoline. Investigators think the oily substance was either a by-product of the manufacturing process, or a bad batch of the bio-diesel, and the illegal dumping may have been a way to cut corners.

"To do away with 6,500 gallons of hazardous material would have cost about $15,000 to have it disposed of correctly," Officer Dicker explained. "The driver was paid $2,000."

New Energy Fuels had no comment, would not confirm if Perkins was still an employee and referred us to an attorney who had no returned our phone calls by late afternoon.

We're told the cleanup of the eight dump sites will cost about $500,000. Of that, it's expected to cost $200,000 for the cleanup of that one retention pond alone.

Perkins was convicted of murder in 1979 and sentenced to 20 years. His criminal history includes a number of other convictions, including assault, criminal trespassing and illegal dumping.

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