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Food processor fined for wastewater violations

By Rory Harrington , 02-Feb-2011

Food processor Orval Kent Food Company has agreed to pay US$390,000 (€282,000) over allegations that industrial wastewater from one of its US plants overloaded a municipal treatment system, polluting a large stretch of a nearby river.

The Illinois-based firm will pay the civil fine to the Government following an investigation that millions of tonnes of industrial wastewater from its facility in Baxter Springs, Kansas, had overrun the city’s waste treatment system and led to the periodic pollution of a 22-mile (35km) stretch of the Spring River in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Under the terms of the consent decree lodged by the US Department of Justice, Orval Kent must also spend a minimum of US$32,500 on restocking fish in the river which has special status in both states.

Kansas state authorities have designated the river as an “exceptional” and “special aquatic life” waterway, partly because of its populations of threatened or endangered species. In Oklahoma, the Spring River is designated as “impaired water” because of turbidity and bacteria.

New wastewater system

The agreement with the company was reached this week following action from the Environmental Protection Agency that began almost three years ago. Orval Food, which makes refrigerated salads and foods, was handed a compliance order in February 2008 after an inspection at the city’s publicly owned wastewater treatment facility revealed the problem.

Residents and the Native American Shawnee Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma had complained of seeing raw sewage in the river. EPA officials found that the wastewater from the firm’s plant was “routinely overloading” Baxter’s system.

After the federal agency issued the order, the company installed new wastewater treatment equipment and changed its manufacturing processes to reduce waste material contained in the facility’s industrial wastewater.

“EPA brought this case because Orval Kent’s decisions to overload the local discharge system hurt people all along this important river, which also plays a key part in Shawnee tribal culture,” EPA regional administrator Karl Brooks said. “The agency negotiated a settlement that targets relief to repair damages Orval Kent caused to the Spring River watershed. It demonstrates that companies can’t ignore their obligations to comply with the law.”

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