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Birds Eye Foods makes deal after water contamination allegations

By Rory Harrington , 23-Jul-2010

Birds Eye Foods is to build a multi-million dollar water treatment plant and supply bottled water to the public as part of an agreement reached with US federal authorities over contamination allegations from one of its processing plants.

The deal between the food processing firm and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) came after claims that waste water from its fruit and vegetable plant in Fennville had contaminated the local water supply.

In 2004, the DNRE cited the company for violations over excessive levels of pH and sodium the plant effluent. The body said Birds Eye Foods’ lagoon and/or spray irrigation system had caused groundwater contamination. A violation notice was issued four years later over higher-than-permitted levels of sodium chloride, total inorganic nitrogen and pH, as well as dissolved iron and total inorganic nitrogen in the company’s monitor wells.

Birds Eye Foods said signing the agreement did not constitute an admission that it had broken the law. It claimed that there were other possible sources of the contamination – including natural background levels of iron, arsenic, sodium and sodium chloride concentrations.

Significant

DNRE director Rebecca A Humphries hailed the settlement as a "significant achievement” for the town’s inhabitants.

“The actions to be taken will provide safe drinking water to affected area residents and fully address the environmental issues in the area, while assuring the continued presence of Birds Eye as an important component of the local economy,” she added.

Under the agreement, Birds Eye Foods will ensure its new $3.5m waster water treatment plant will be operational by 1 November 2011. Waste water from the new treatment system will be sprayed on agricultural fields during the growing season. During the winter its will be discharged to surface water via Fennville’s municipal wastewater treatment system.

The company has also pledged to complete a remedial investigation to determine the full nature and extent of groundwater contamination, as well as agreeing to take any necessary action to tackle the problems. It will also pay at least $70,000 to fund a water supply extension to residences in the area affected by groundwater contamination downgradient of its facility. It will also pay $10,000 compensation to teh DNRE for its six-year investigation into the matter.

Thrilled

Pinnacle Foods, owners of Birds Eye Foods, told FoodProductionDaily.com it welcomed the agreement.

“We’re pleased that we’ve reached an agreement with the State that will lead to environmental improvement and upgraded water supplies for many area residents,” said a company spokeswoman. “We are proud that our role in assisting with obtaining the government grant will help extend and improve the city government’s water supply including installing an iron filtration system and that residents in the vicinity of Fennville will be able to attain public water usage. We’re also thrilled that soon we’ll be permitted to install our $3.5 million waste water system after the formal comment and review period ends August 20th.”

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