Federal environmental inspectors were initially barred from entering a chain of chemical barrel refurbishing plants twice last year, being stopped even after they had a court order to enter immediately.
Officials got the court-issued warrant because they were concerned they were not seeing true operations, as required under federal law.
Newly released records show a federal workplace safety inspector also was barred from entering the Mid-America Steel Drum in Oak Creek. And when access finally was allowed, the inspector was not seeing true operations because some workers were on lunch break, records show.
In August, Mid-America officials initially would not let an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector into the plant to investigate reports of dangerous working conditions.
The inspector was forced to wait for the company’s attorneys to drive from downtown Milwaukee to the plant, which refurbishes and recycles 55-gallon drums. It was about two hours before the inspector was able to walk around the plant, records show.
Federal inspectors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies ran into a similar delay when they showed up at the Oak Creek plant and two others in the area earlier last year and were forced to wait for company lawyers.
Concerned that the company engaged in a coverup, federal prosecutors took the unusual step of going to a judge to authorize surprise simultaneous inspections of all three facilities — in Milwaukee, St. Francis and Oak Creek.
Subsequent inspections resulted in a slew of violations. Five agencies have uncovered more than 70 violations at the three plants.