Judge Orders BART to Pay Nearly $1.3 Million for Breaking Hazardous Materials Rules

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A BART train pulls out of Oakland's Rockridge Station.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

BART has agreed to settle allegations that at dozens of the transit agency's facilities it failed to appropriately plan for the possibility of hazardous materials spills.

A lawsuit filed by prosecutors in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties claimed BART failed to prepare emergency responders in the event of chemical spills from storage tanks.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson has ordered BART to pay nearly $1.3 million to the three counties as part of an agreement announced Tuesday.

"We certainly learned our lesson," BART spokesman Jim Allison said in an interview.

The suit claimed that more than 30 of the transit agency's 190 facilities in the three counties did not establish and implement plans for emergency response in the event of a release of large amounts of diesel fuel, petroleum, sulfuric acid contained in industrial batteries, and fire-extinguishing chemicals.

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The allegations were prompted by routine inspections in January 2014.

During those inspections, hazardous materials inspectors with the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health discovered large above-ground storage tanks containing diesel fuel at BART facilities in East Dublin/Pleasanton, West Dublin and Castro Valley. The facilities did not include hazardous materials business plans, something they are required to do by law. The tanks, which contained 500 to more than 1,700 gallons of diesel, were located near areas used by thousands of BART commuters, officials said.

"When we did our investigation we found that there was either an inadequate plan submitted or there was no plan at all," Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Stacey Grassini said Tuesday.

BART will pay $675,000 in civil penalties, $300,000 to reimburse the costs of the investigation and $300,000 for extra staffing to make sure the agency complies with hazardous materials rules.

That money will come from BART's general fund, according to Allison. The agency's board of directors approved the settlement in a closed session meeting in November.

BART settled the lawsuit because it agrees that it was not complying with the regulations, Allison said.

"It's important to note that the public and the environment were not endangered by this noncompliance," Allison said. "But it was a serious issue, nonetheless, and BART has taken steps to correct it."