Painters guilty of dumping lead paint into storm drain system

SAN DIEGO — The CEO and two employees of a Riverside County-based painting company were placed on probation and ordered to pay more than $12,000 in fines and restitution after pleading guilty to contaminating San Diego’s storm water system by power-washing painted curbs and allowing toxic lead paint chips to flow into storm drains, City Attorney Mara Elliott announced Friday.

Ochoa Striping Services Inc. was contracted to sandblast paint from curbs in a Del Cerro neighborhood, Elliott said. That method of paint removal would have allowed workers to safely clean up and dispose of hazardous material.

Instead, the painters illegally hooked up their equipment to a city fire hydrant, using municipal water to power-wash the curb, releasing a flow of toxic paint chips into the street, gutter and storm drain, Elliott said.

A Transportation and Storm Water Division employee, investigating a citizen complaint, determined the painters had improperly disposed of potentially hazardous material and told them to take immediate corrective actions. Despite the warning, the painters returned the next day and continued their work in the same manner. Paint samples were taken and tested, confirming the presence of lead in the paint.

Lead paint, when swallowed even in small amounts, can cause permanent brain damage, learning disabilities and behavioral problems in young children, Elliott said. Though banned for decades, it is present in many older homes and neighborhoods.

“Businesses that recklessly engage in illegal dumping schemes endanger public health and our ocean ecology,” Elliott said. “In this case, the business released lead paint chips into our storm drain system, which flows into the ocean. This is an inexcusable assault on the health and safety of those who frequent our beautiful beaches, particularly children who are susceptible to lead poisoning.”

Under a plea agreement, defendant Luis Ochoa Ramirez, CEO of Ochoa Striping Services, will pay more than $10,000 in fines and restitution and perform 80 hours of volunteer work service through a nonprofit organization involved in ocean and/or bay cleanup within the city of San Diego.

Defendants Jose Ochoa and Auder Oliva Gudiel, the employees who did the power washing, will each pay more than $1,000 in fines.

All three defendants were ordered to complete a San Diego County Department of Environmental Health-approved class addressing the proper disposal of hazardous waste.