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Air-conditioning company charged with dumping oil

An air-conditioning company faces thousands of dollars in potential fines and cleanup fees after charges that its employees have been dumping motor oil into a dry retention pond behind the company's maintenance building. Officials from the state Department of Environmental Regulation and the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission showed up with a search warrant Wednesday morning at the Schmitt Inc. offices at 17935 U.S. 19 in Hudson.

They were there to take samples of oil found dumped on company property Feb. 6, said wildlife Officer Bennie Greene of the commission. The oil had formed a 15-by-28-foot slick, with oil-soaked soil 14 to 18 inches deep, Greene said. The oil apparently had come from the company's 40 service vans and trucks.

Daniel Robert Schmitt, 52, the company's owner, and Charles Deal, 49, a shop foreman, were cited Feb. 6 on felony littering charges for dumping the oil, Greene said. The company also faces DER fines after oil samples are tested to determine if any hazardous substances were dumped along with the oil, which also was improperly disposed of, said Elizabeth Knauss of the DER.

Officials found batteries and empty bottles of Freon, a chemical compound that often contains chlorine and is used in refrigeration equipment, Greene said.

After seven samples are tested and analyzed in the next month, officials will decide whether test wells should be drilled to determine groundwater contamination, Greene said.

Schmitt would not tell officials why the oil was dumped behind his

buildings, Greene said. Schmitt could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

It was not the first time Schmitt's company has run into trouble with authorities recently. In November, he agreed not to solicit residential business from homeowners for three years in Citrus County.

That agreement settled a case in which his workers were accused of trying to sell replacement air-conditioning equipment that customers did not need.

Schmitt's main offices are on two acres along U.S. 19 in Hudson, Greene said. While doing a routine wildlife patrol Feb. 6, Greene saw the large oil slick and several 55-gallon drums tipped on their sides behind the Schmitt Inc. maintenance building, he said. The oil had been dumped down a 45-degree incline into the dry, weed-filled retention pond. The period during which it had been dumped is not known.

Workers took drums and jugs of oil out the back door of the maintenance building and walked 30 feet to the edge of the retention pond, where they dumped it along with old oil filters, Greene said.

The part of the pond where the oil was dumped is on Schmitt's property.

A 30-inch-wide pipe extends from the bottom of the 40--by-40-foot retention pond to an unknown location, possibly to the eastern side of U.S. 19, Greene said. Authorities still are trying to determine where the pipe leads - and whether oil and other waste spread from the pond to other locations or into ground water.

Four samples will be tested for volatile organic compounds, such as solvents, and three samples will be tested for heavy metals, Knauss said. Motor oil is considered a solid waste, and a person must have a permit to dispose of it, she said.

At the least, Schmitt will have to pay to dig up the oil-soaked soil and transport it to a special dump site, Greene said. That will cost several thousand dollars, he said. In addition to civil penalties from the DER, Schmitt and Deal also face up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine for the felony littering charges.

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