A Superior Court judge today dismissed all charges against one of two Raleigh men accused in last summer's dumping of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) along 211 miles of North Carolina roads.
On a motion by defense lawyers, Judge Donald Smith dismissed charges against Robert E. Ward III, 29, for conspiracy and two counts of being an accessory before the fact.
Ward's father, Robert E. Ward Jr., 55, charged with the same crimes, took the stand in his own defense in the fourth day of trial in Halifax County Superior Court and denied planning or participating in the dumping. If convicted, Ward could face up to 22 years in prison.
Ward testified that he had paid about $65,000 to Robert Burns of Jamestown, N.Y., and his two sons, Randall and Timothy, to haul transformer oil containing PCBs from the Ward Transformer Co. in Raleigh to Burns' warehouse in Youngsville, Pa.
"I didn't have any idea or suspicion that it would be dumped," Ward told the jury.
The three New York men have pleaded guilty to federal and state charges, but have not been sentenced under a plea agreement with prosecutors. Both Wards also face federal charges.
Truckers spilled thousands off gallons of oil containing PCBs along state roads in 14 countries and on federal land at Fort Bragg, N.C., last summer. The PCB oil contaminated an estimated 50,000 tons of soil.
PCBs used in many products as a fire retardant, cause skin and internal disorders in humans and have been linked to birth defects and cancer in laboratory animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The chemical does not easily break down in the environment and can be inhaled, absorbed or ingested by humans. The EPA has banned production of PCBs.
Expert witnesses from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and the University of Wisconsin testified Wednesday that the PCB spills could be harmful to humans and animals. Defense lawyers tried to show that PCB laboratory tests are inconclusive, and that lab tests with rhesus monkeys and rats don't necessarily mean a danger to humans.
Robert Burns testified that he told the elder Ward about his plan to dump PCBs and kept him informed of where he dumped the chemical. Burns said that after his arrest last August he lied repeatedly to investigators, signed a false statement and lied on tape recordings in an attempt to protect the Wards, who were family friends.
Defense lawyers tried to show that Burns was a liar who "delivered" the Wards to authorities in a "deal" for leniency from prosecutors.
Randall and Timothy Burns testified that they began dumping the PCB oil because it was too expensive to haul to their warehouse.
The dumping has created political problems for Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., who last year promised to clean up the roadsides. On Monday the EPA rejected Hunt's proposal to treat the PCB-contaminated soil and then leave it alongside the roads.