Leonard C Boyle, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, Tyler Amon, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for New England, and Commissioner Katie Scharf Dykes of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection announced that MARMON UTILITY LLC waived its right to be indicted and pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Kari A. Dooley in Bridgeport to a felony violation of the Clean Water Act for knowingly failing to properly operate and maintain the industrial wastewater treatment system and sludge-processing equipment at the Kerite Power Cable & Pump Cable factory located at 49 Day Street in Seymour, Connecticut. Marmon Utility LLC (“Marmon”), a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, owns and operates the factory.
Under the terms of its plea agreement, if accepted by the court, Marmon will be under federal probation for three years and must pay $2.4 million to the government: $800,000 as a federal penalty and $1.6 million to fund a Supplemental Environmental Project administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“CT DEEP”) to remediate the Naugatuck River.
According to court documents and statements made in court, the Kerite Power Cable & Pump Cable (“Kerite”) factory in Seymour manufactures large power cables and generates industrial wastewater containing heavy metals such as lead and zinc. Under its 2015 CT DEEP permit, Marmon was required to properly operate and maintain the wastewater treatment system at the factory to reduce the heavy-metal content by chemical precipitation before the wastewater could be discharged to the sewage treatment plant.
The investigation revealed that Marmon had been cutting back on its environmental compliance program for many years, and had not had an employee with an environmental background running its wastewater treatment system since February 2004. When the operator of the wastewater treatment system became ill in March 2016, Marmon ran the system for approximately five months with maintenance employees who lacked environmental training and training on the treatment system.
On September 7 and 8, 2016, the superintendent of the Seymour treatment plant observed unusual, rusty brown wastewater flowing into the plant and notified CT DEEP. This rusty brown influent was interfering with the decomposition of the sewage. The superintendent took samples and determined that the lead concentration of the rusty brown influent was approximately 127 times greater than the plant’s normal lead measurement, and that its zinc concentration was over 10 times the typical zinc concentration. During the next several days, the superintendent had to order several truckloads of biologic microorganisms to break down the unprocessed sewage. It took two weeks for the treatment plant to return to usual operational capacity.
On September 27 and 29, 2016, CT DEEP and the plant superintendent inspected Marmon’s Kerite facility and concluded that it had discharged the rusty brown influent with the high lead and zinc concentrations on September 7, 8, and 9, 2016. CT DEEP issued a Notice of Violation to Marmon based on, among other evidence:
- The Marmon facility manager’s statements (1) that the wastewater treatment operator had not been at the facility since the end of March 2016 due to medical reasons; (2) that no sludge had been processed in the filter press since this employee’s departure; and (3) no other Marmon employee had been trained to process sludge as required under the CT DEEP permit.
- The Kerite factory had discharged 5,725 gallons of industrial wastewater on September 7, 2016, and 5,225 gallons on September 8, 2016, which exceeded the daily discharge limit in Marmon’s CT DEEP permit.
- The lead concentration in water samples taken from Marmon’s final discharge tank, which flows to the Seymour sewage treatment plant, was 69 times greater than the permissible limit in Marmon’s CT DEEP permit. The zinc concentration was 8.5 times greater than the prescribed limit.
The EPA’s investigation further disclosed that from at least April 24, 2016, and until September 29, 2016, the Marmon maintenance employees operating the wastewater treatment system did not know how to check and maintain the pH probe, operate the sludge filter press, check or change certain filters. These were all key components of the treatment system used to remove heavy metals from the factory’s industrial wastewater. These employees also did not have access to detailed manuals for operating the system.
In fact, these Marmon employees informed investigators that, during this time period, when certain tanks became full and the system was imbalanced, they would empty the tank by opening certain valves to discharge the industrial wastewater without treating it. As of mid-October 2016, the 3,000-gallon holding tank in Marmon’s wastewater treatment system held 1,000 gallons of sludge.
In addition to not properly operating and maintaining the wastewater treatment system and sludge-processing equipment at the Seymour factory, Marmon has also admitted to knowingly exceeding its maximum daily discharge limit in its CT DEEP permit on September 7 and 8, 2016, knowingly failing to notify CT DEEP promptly of the improper bypass, and that it had stopped processing the sludge using a sludge filter press as required under the CT DEEP permit.
“Any company operating a factory in Connecticut that ignores federal and state environmental laws does so at its own peril,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Boyle. “Marmon failed to properly operate its industrial wastewater treatment system, thereby allowing unacceptably high levels of lead and zinc in its factory wastewater to flow to the Seymour sewage treatment plant – nearly knocking it offline. Although Marmon once had a robust environmental program, the company gradually eliminated its environmental compliance department and reassigned these duties to maintenance workers with minimal training. Today’s prosecution under the CWA is the direct result of Marmon’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach. We recognize and thank the EPA and CT DEEP for their invaluable work in protecting the environmental integrity of Connecticut’s rivers and the Long Island Sound.”
“A town’s publicly owned wastewater treatment plant disinfects incoming wastewater from industry so clean water can be safely returned to our creeks, rivers, and lakes,” explained Special Agent in Charge Tyler Amon with EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division for New England. “The criminal conduct of Marmon Utility compromised Seymour’s operations and the company simply did not play by the rules. Today’s criminal pleading demonstrates again the U.S. Attorney’s Office and EPA’s commitment to protecting Connecticut’s environment.”
“By disinvesting in environmental management and the proper operation and maintaining of its wastewater pretreatment systems, Marmon’s conduct compromised the Town of Seymour’s Publicly Owned Treatment Works’ ability to properly treat all the wastewaters it receives from its community and protect the quality of the Naugatuck River for fishing and swimming, “ DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “This action sends a clear message – everyone has a role in protecting public health and our environment and there are significant consequences for not obeying our environmental laws and regulations. Funds that will be provided to DEEP as a result of the proposed settlement of this case will strengthen programs that preserve and improve the quality of the Naugatuck River and its aquatic ecosystem. This settlement was achieved through a strong partnership of the DEEP, the EPA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. DEEP is proud to have played a part in this effort.”
This Clean Water Act offense carries a fine of not less than $5,000 but not more than $50,000 per day of the violation.
Judge Dooley has scheduled sentencing for April 7, 2022.
This matter has been investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Chen, with assistance from the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General.