Government accuses business of knowingly harming employees

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EL RENO, Okla. -- An El Reno business is facing criminal charges of unlawfully concealing and disposing of hazardous waste.

Two employees who worked for Gibson & Sons, Inc. said they are now sick after being told to dump the waste on company property.

The government claims the business owners knew the waste was hazardous and tried to hide it from the public after getting a warning two years ago.

The Department of Environmental Quality said those employees have suffered both short- and long-term health problems due to lead exposure.

In court records, DEQ accused Stephen Mark Gibson and James Marshall Gibson, of Gibson & Sons, of conspiring to dig a pit on the property they owned to hide that waste.

"(The affected employees) are obviously not happy," Luke Abel said, attorney for the two employees. "They are upset by the fact they've been exposed to this."

Those men said as a result of working at Gibson & Sons, they now have elevated levels of lead in their blood, which has affected their health.

"They go to work, hopefully it's a safe place, and they've been exposed and they didn't know they would be exposed," said.

According to an affidavit filed by DEQ in Canadian County, Gibson & Sons cleans aircraft engines.

The waste material from the aircraft engine cleaning process contains lead.

The affidavit states one employee was told to place the waste in boxes and throw it in the trash.

But in 2010, DEQ found the company failed to ensure that hazardous waste was disposed properly at a permitted facility.

"The Gibson brothers responded and told DEQ they would be collecting their hazardous waste and sending it off site to be treated by an environmental company," DEQ Spokesperson Erin Hatfield said.

But two years later, DEQ said that never happened.

They said the employees were instructed to spread the waste in a field and in a nearby pit, which jeopardized their health.

The affidavit states, "They were not provided any personal protective equipment."

"Lead can cause neurological disorders, especially in children and the elderly but also in adults when exposed over time," Hatfield said.

Mark and Marshall Gibson had no comment.

Their attorney, Dan Webber, released a statement:

"My clients have pled not guilty as it makes no sense that they would purposefully do harm to their longtime employees or to their own land. The Gibsons quickly took steps to help any potentially affected employees and improve workplace conditions. They are now in the process of addressing any damage to their property."

Both men face one count of Unlawful Concealment of Hazardous Waste, which is a crime that carries up to 10 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine, as well as one count of Unlawful Disposal of Hazardous Waste, which carries up to five years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine.

The Canadian County District Attorney's office said their next court date is Aug. 24.

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