Wednesday, October 10th, 2007
EPA, Dannon settle on fine for illegal discharges
By Margie Wuebker
MINSTER - The Dannon Company has been fined $71,350 by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for 10 spills or illegal discharges into the Miami and Erie Canal that have been documented since March 2004.
The EPA and Dannon, the country's largest yogurt producer, announced the settlement in press releases issued Tuesday afternoon.
Along with paying the penalty, Dannon officials agreed to submit a spill response plan, install an automated control system at its wastewater treatment plant and improve operating records.
"We are deeply committed to being a good neighbor and we take our environmental responsibility very seriously," Dannon Senior Plant Director Didier Menu said in a prepared news release.
His words were echoed today by Michael Neuwirth, the company's senior director of public relations, who said Dannon took the initiative to build a wastewater pretreatment plant as a means of demonstrating its commitment to safe operation and growth in the community.
"The new facility does not involve merely flipping a switch," he told The Daily Standard. "We have been ramping up since July, and it is now fully on line."
In addition to the multi-million dollar wastewater pretreatment plant, Dannon has incorporated other environmental initiatives including automated shut-off controls and new staff training programs, he said.
The automated control system measures dissolved oxygen levels while three pH meters monitor the acidity of effluent. An automated alarm and phone system will trigger during pre-determined conditions. Additionally, the company is to install an automated pump shut-off to cut off the flow to Minster's sewer system when the automated alarms sound.
Neuwirth said Dannon previously had no automated system that could have warned plant personnel when a September 2005 discharge of caustic chemicals and insufficiently treated wastewater disrupted the village's wastewater treatment plant. A subsequent spill resulted in the death of 33,310 fish valued at nearly $7,000. The spill was not detected until village wastewater treatment plant employees returned to work following the weekend and detected the odor of dead fish.
The EPA agreement gives Dannon 90 days to submit a spill response plan spelling out what steps will be taken in the event of a spill and a regularly scheduled training program for plant employees involved in spill responses.
Dannon also is required to keep records of daily inspections of the pretreatment facility, staff it with a certified operator and properly trained employees and make daily reports regarding wastewater and sludge disposal volumes.
Minster Village Administrator Don Harrod said some problems occurred during the "ramp up" of the company's new pretreatment facility, located on a 4-acre tract of land adjacent to the village facility. However, the new system appears to be working well at this point.
Pierce said Dannon's penalty is based on dollar figures assigned to each violation. However, such fines are negotiable.
"The fines assure a company takes violations seriously," she added.
The money will be used to administer the Ohio EPA's surface water programs and benefit the Ohio Environmental Education Fund.
EPA lists Dannon problems:
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has documented the following spill/discharge incidents that occurred at the Minster plant:
• March 17, 2004 - a spill of approximately 1,200 gallons of sludge from Dannon's treatment plant as a result of overflow.
• Feb. 13, 2005 - a power failure resulted in a spill of approximately 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water and milk solids. The spill was reported and eventually cleaned up with approximately 32,000 gallons of storm water/milk waste removed from village storm sewers and the canal.
• On or about Sept. 12, 2005 - a discharge of several hundred gallons of wastewater and 1,800 gallons of caustic chemicals into the sanitary sewer system resulting in a malfunction at the Minster wastewater treatment facility and the death of 33,310 fish. A subsequent letter indicated the company failed to notify the village and the EPA of the spill, which was discovered by village employees returning to work after the weekend.
• June 9, 2006 - a wastewater discharge consisting primarily of raw milk, fruit and water backed up through Dannon's sanitary sewer and overflowed a manhole into the parking lot where it seeped into a stormwater catch basin, a storm sewer and into the canal.
• On or about Jan. 9, 2007 - a wastewater discharge consisting of material from a Dannon aeration tank overflowed to the storm water outfall leading to another spill of undetermined amount into the canal.
• Jan. 25, 2007 - the discharge of several hundred thousand gallons of insufficiently treated wastewater disrupted the village wastewater treatment plant destroying its effectiveness and causing pollutants to be released into the canal.
• Feb. 5, 2007 - a wastewater discharge consisting of butter fat and milk wash-downs overflowed through the facility's wastewater treatment system to the ground and eventually to the storm drain that empties into the storm sewer and canal.
Additionally, the company received notification via letter on several occasions in regard to its indirect discharge permit. The latest violation occurred April 18 of this year at the company's new pretreatment plant construction site when an inspector found Dannon had failed to implement and maintain storm water controls on or around a soil stockpile designed to prevent runoff of sediment.
- Margie Wuebker