OAKLAND (BCN) - The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has accused Gallo Glass Co. of using hazardous waste in the manufacturing process for its wine bottles, but Gallo officials said the lawsuit has no merit.
The state attorney general's office filed a civil complaint against Gallo on behalf of the DTSC in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland on Friday.
The complaint alleges that Gallo's plant in Modesto illegally introduced dust containing lead, arsenic, cadmium and selenium into the manufacture of the bottles.
According to the complaint, the dust is generated by equipment that captures pollutants that would otherwise be released into the air by the plant's furnaces.
Gallo agreed to stop using the dust as an ingredient in their wine bottles last May, but the complaint argues that the dust is hazardous waste that Gallo has failed to handle appropriately under state law.
"They have stopped using this hazardous waste dust in the glassmaking process, but that's only part of what they're doing wrong," DTSC spokeswoman Tamma Adamek said. "Overall, they're not managing this dust as hazardous waste, and it is hazardous waste."
Gallo has responded, saying that their facilities are run in accordance with their permits and that using the dust that way is an environmentally friendly practice.
"Precipitate captured by our air emission controls is comprised of the same raw materials used to make glass so we use it instead of adding new raw materials," the company said in a statement.
"The use of precipitate in glass making is recognized throughout the world as the environmentally sustainable best practice and its use in the glass making process eliminates the need to transport and dispose of it in landfills," Gallo officials said.
Adamek countered, saying that Gallo is trying to avoid the significant expenses associated with properly handling and disposing of hazardous waste created in the glass manufacturing process by putting it back into the glass.
"For it to be legitimate recycling, they have to show that there's a beneficial purpose to putting this stuff in the glass," Adamek said. "It can't just be a cheaper way to get rid of it, and that's what we allege. We call it sham recycling."
At this time, DTSC has no evidence that consuming wine stored in Gallo's bottles poses a threat to human health.
Adamek said that DTSC is seeking monetary civil penalties and is asking the court to provide injunctive relief, which would prevent Gallo from using the precipitate in their manufacturing process in the future.
The department was in settlement talks with Gallo, but those fell through because the statute of limitations was approaching, according to Adamek.
"They wouldn't agree to what we were asking, so we were forced to file," Adamek said.
Gallo painted a very different picture in their response.
"For more than five years we have been trying to resolve this matter but the State of California has refused to provide us with any proposals and instead unilaterally cut off negotiations, deciding instead to sue us," the company said in its statement. "We look forward to our day in court."
That court date has not been set yet and the DTSC still hopes to negotiate a settlement with Gallo, according to Adamek.