PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Illinois-based corporation Hydro Extrusion USA pleaded guilty on Wednesday to releasing hazardous pollutants into the air from its aluminum-processing plant in The Dalles, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon.

The Clean Air Act violation, Environmental Protection Agency criminal investigator Scot Adair said in a statement, negligently endangered the company’s employees and citizens of The Dalles.

“The defendant knowingly and unlawfully violated environmental regulations and in doing so exposed their workers and the local community to hazardous air pollutants,” Adair said. “EPA, along with its state partners, are committed to holding companies accountable when they endanger the health of their employees and local communities.”

In a statement, U.S. Attorney’s Office Economic Crimes Unit Chief Ethan Knight said that Hydro Extrusion USA released the material into the air by illegally melting contaminated scrap metal. According to court documents, the company used its location in The Dalles to melt aluminum scrap in induction furnaces to produce reusable aluminum billets. Air emissions from these furnaces were allowed to waft from the building without the use of any filtration, directly exposing employees to the pollutants, officials said.

Under the Clean Air Act, secondary aluminum sites are required to use “clean charge” aluminum scrap that is free of paints, lubricants or other coatings, according to officials, who added Hydro Extrusion USA violated these requirements from July of 2018 through June of 2019 by melting scraps coated in a mineral-oil that, when burned, produces hazardous smoke. Hydro employees reported to authorities that they noticed excessive smoke in the building during this period, officials said.

The company allegedly saved approximately $466,000 by using the unclean product. Despite receiving a notice from inspectors with the EPA and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Hydro Extrusion US continued melting the unclean charge, authorities said. Knight said the Department of Justice intends to hold businesses such as Hydro Extrusion USA accountable for their actions.

“No cost savings or competitive advantage are worth the risk posed to the health and safety of Hydro’s workers or members of the community,” Knight said. “We will continue working closely with our partners at the EPA to ensure all businesses play by the rules.” 

After cooperating with investigators, the company was charged with one count of negligent endangerment on August 23, 2022. Upon pleading guilty, the company agreed to pay $550,125 ahead of its sentencing scheduled for April 24, 2023.