The corporate owner of a swanky hotel has been charged after workers were accused of illegally disposing pool chemicals that sickened subway riders and sparked fears of a terrorist attack.
Hotelsab LLC, doing business as Andre Balazs Properties, was charged with one felony count of disposing hazardous waste without a permit, according to the federal complaint unveiled Friday.
If convicted, the company faces a maximum fine of $500,000, said Joseph Johns, head of the environmental crimes section at the U.S. attorneys office.
The complaint alleges that hotel employees poured acid and chlorine down a roof drain beside the hotel pool at The Standard on Jan. 19. The chemicals snaked down to a street-level storm drain, and the fumes caused people to start vomiting at a subway station two blocks away.
"They thought initially it was a terrorist incident," said Johns. "You get a report of chlorine gas in the subway, and everyone starts thinking nerve gas a la Tokyo" — a reference to the sarin gas terrorism on Tokyo's subway system in 1995 in which a dozen people died.
"We are sorry for this employee mistake involving diluted swimming pool chemicals," Nadine Johnson, a spokeswoman for The Standard, said in a statement. "We will continue to assist the government."
The company also owns celebrity hangout Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and The Mercer Hotel in New York, along with other luxury hotels.
A fire department investigator had told the hotel officials that they urgently needed to do something about the chemicals on the roof in November. Two months later, workers began to dispose of the chemicals.
In the complaint, hotel employee Jared Murphy said his supervisor instructed him to put on gloves and run water down the drain while he pumped the concentrated chemicals out of two 50-gallon tanks, which were three-quarters full.
He said he was told the water would "not make it so hazardous."
About 100 first responders arrived at the subway, including police, fire and FBI hazardous materials personnel, and a weapons of mass destruction coordinator for the FBI. The nearest intersection was shut down for hours.
Johns said more charges could be filed if it's determined that company officials or employees knew that disposing of hazardous chemicals without a permit was illegal.
"Dilution is not the solution to pollution," Johns said.