Plant manager allegedly ordered chemicals be washed into Chattahoochee

Crews work at the site of chemicals in a Smyrna creek that left it chalky white. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

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Crews work at the site of chemicals in a Smyrna creek that left it chalky white. (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Prosecutors say a Cobb County plant manager allegedly ordered toxic chemicals be washed into a tributary of the Chattahoochee River and lied about it to authorities.

Carlos Conde, 37, has been indicted on charges of violating the Clean Water Act and lying to agents following the 2016 spill, according to a Wednesday news release from federal prosecutors.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time, some of the 25 residents in the Kenwood subdivision in Smyrna called authorities the morning of Aug. 13, 2016 saying that the creek behind their homes had turned milky.

Conde, of Smyrna, ran daily operations at Apollo Industries, now Plaze Georgia, when the spill happened.

A message for a vice president at Plaze was not immediately returned Wednesday.

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“Conde allegedly instructed workers to intentionally wash toxic and hazardous chemicals into the Chattahoochee River watershed,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said in the news release. “The Chattahoochee is one of Georgia’s jewels that must be protected from those who recklessly damage the wildlife and environment.”

On Aug. 12, 2016 a batching tank at Apollo’s chemical mixing facility in Smyrna started leaking naphthalene, which is used to clean carburetors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says naphthalene smells like mothballs and can be toxic to humans in large doses.

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The next morning, the feds said, two workers found the leak and called Conde, who allegedly told them to wash it into an unnamed offshoot of the Chattahoochee and Nickajack Creek.

Conde then twice denied his role in the spill during interviews with a federal agent and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The case has been sealed by a judge, federal prosecutors said Wednesday, so no further details are publicly known.

Bert Langley, director of compliance at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said at the time that his staff removed 500,000 gallons of contaminated water from the creek and moved it to storage tanks at Apollo for disposal or treatment.

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Langley said the leak killed as many as several hundred fish. He explained that the impact was so great and concentrated because the creek was so small.

Apollo at the time posted a letter on its website saying it had hired a consultant to help with the testing and another to help figure out how the spill happened, which they said would include interviewing employees.

“It is important that we continue to remain vigilant to protect our precious waters throughout the southeast,” said Trey Glenn, regional EPA administrator, said in the news release.

Conde’s next court date was not available online.

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