The owner of an Oceanside recycling company was arrested Monday and charged with selling mulch contaminated with traces of arsenic and PCBs, and containing bits of plastic, floor tiles and sheet metal, prosecutors said.
The mulch -- which is supposed to be made from untreated wood -- was sold at Island Hopper Landscape Supplies in Island Park, one of two locations operated by Liotta Bros. Recycling Corp.
The Nassau County district attorney's office and the state Department of Environmental Conservation executed a search warrant at both locations last August as part of a crackdown on solid-waste violations.
Company owner Victor Liotta of Oceanside was charged twice in the past two years with illegal dumping in Suffolk County, according to the DEC. Those ongoing cases led to greater scrutiny of the company's activities in Nassau, DEC regional director Peter Scully said.
Tests of mulch sold at Liotta's Island Park location showed it had been mixed with chemically treated wood and other construction and demolition debris, officials said. Contaminated mulch could leach pollutants into groundwater or potentially expose people through skin contact or ingestion.
Liotta, 46, and his corporation were charged Monday with fraud and assorted solid-waste violations. Prosecutors said the charges could carry a maximum sentence of 4 years. Liotta pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance, said his attorney, Marc Gann of Mineola.
Gann questioned the degree of danger posed by the mulch.
"If it's as serious as they claim it to be, where were they in between August, when they executed the search warrant, and now, when they asked my client to surrender?" Gann said. "I haven't even seen their test results."
State health department spokesman Peter Constantakes said pregnant women and children are advised to stay away from chemically treated wood, but said the risk in this case was impossible to characterize without knowing the precise makeup of the material. The relative volume of treated lumber in the mulch was low, the DEC said.
Rice's office advised consumers who have mulch from Island Hopper Landscape Supplies to remove it from their yards.