Departmentof ecology levies $18,500 fine

Published on Thu, Jan 6, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Department of ecology levies $18,500 fine

By Jack Kintner

The state department of ecology (DOE) has issued a fine of $18,500 to Nature’s Path Foods in Blaine for discharging more than 600 pounds of sugar into the Blaine sewer system and for other waste-discharge violations.

The spill occurred in September, 2003, before the factory’s $750,000 waste treatment facility was operational according to plant superintendent Jeff Green. “That treatment facility has been a long-standing project since 2000, and it takes some fine-tuning to get it to screen out the bad stuff, essentially waste products from food manufacturing,” Green said. He described the violations as “growing pains” in getting their system up and running.

The DOE’s waste-discharge permit issued to the company sets limits on the amount of pollution that discharge into Blaine’s public sewer system. Excessive food waste can lead to low levels of oxygen - needed by fish and other organisms - in the water.

The sugar discharge also interfered with the treatment process at Blaine’s sewage facility which resulted in Blaine exceeding some of the pollution limits set in its own DOE wastewater permit.

The plant’s wastewater violated the permit limits during the nine months from October 2003 through June 2004.  The company also failed to properly monitor and report the facility’s wastewater discharges, as required in the permit. Doug Knutson, an environmental engineer with DOE, acknowledged that plant managers have been cooperative. “We are providing technical assistance to help Nature’s Path with its wastewater pre-treatment so that the permit violations are not repeated,” he said, “but the plant has been having an on-going problem, so in the meantime we’re confronted with a series of violations.” The last such violation, Knutson said, was last June.
“We’re doing what we can to alleviate the problem,” said Green, “and are trying to be responsible by spending the money for equipment and by following the guidelines that the DOE has set into the process. Trying to pull some of the dissolved sugars out of suspension at the molecular level can be tricky.”

Missing paperwork was also an issue. “Our permit system relies on self-reporting to keep costs down,” said Knutson, “so we have to be strict about getting the reports in on time and done in a certain way.”
Nature’s Path Foods may appeal the penalty to the DOE or the state pollution control hearings board within 30 days.

The company, headquartered in Richmond, B.C., was founded in 1985 and employs 200 people at four different facilities including the one in Blaine on Sweet Road.

In a prepared statement, Nature’s Path president Arran Stephens said his life-long philosophy, both personally and professionally, has been to “leave the earth better than we found it.” He added Nature’s Path worked with the DOE and the city for a resolution. Last year, Nature's Path designed and constructed an on-site waste treatment facility, which has included ongoing improvements totaling $750,000.

“At Nature’s Path, we have made it our mission for 20 years to be a healthy partner in the organic foods industry - from the foods we produce to sustainable business practices,” Stephens said. “Nature’s Path has made a genuine commitment to the local community by alleviating strains from our production facility to the waste-water system in Blaine.”