Johnson Foods Inc. of Sunnyside has been fined $14,000 for a history of wastewater discharges that are excessively acidic and for other water quality violations at the food processing facilities the company operates in Sunnyside.
That’s according to the Department of Ecology, which issued the announcement last week.
Johnson Foods processes fruits and vegetables and sends its wastewater to be treated at the Port of Sunnyside. Wastewater with a low pH (acidic) can interfere with the industrial treatment plant operations, infrastructure and effectiveness, the agency said.
Department of Ecology officials note that the last couple of years, the company has discharged highly acidic wastewater that can increase odors and upset the treatment processes at the port authority plant.
Johnson Foods also didn’t meet interim permit limits to come into compliance with water quality regulations, the agency said.
Since 2011, the Washington Department of Ecology says it has tried to help Johnson Foods to come into compliance through an interim schedule, a monitoring program spelled out in its waste discharge permit. Those interim limits for pH were to be achieved by March 15, 2013.
Gary Johnson is the president of Johnson Foods and says the state penalty was unexpected.
“It is difficult for Johnson Foods to respond to the notice of penalty received within the last few days from the Department of Ecology because we were not previously aware of the claimed violation, nor has Ecology been working with our company in connection with the matter,” Johnson asserts. “Any implication by the Washington State Department of Ecology that the wastewater discharged by Johnson Foods harms the environment is false.”
Johnson notes his company’s wastewater is received and treated by the Port of Sunnyside’s industrial wastewater facility.
“In the past, if a problem developed concerning the nature of our discharges, we were notified by the Port of Sunnyside and the issue was immediately resolved through the cooperation and good relationship we have enjoyed with the port,” he says.
Johnson added, “We have received no notice of noncompliance from the port relating to the low pH of our wastewater discharges to the port’s facilities.”
Bob Farrell is an engineer for the Port of Sunnyside, which processes industrial wastewater for Johnson Foods and several other companies in the area.
“We receive tremendous volumes of industrial waste water, masses of it,” said Farrell. He noted it would be difficult from the port’s perspective to single out one industry because of the large quantity. “We do what we do and what we can to stay in compliance,” Farrell said.
He added that Johnson Foods’ discharge did not have an effect on the port’s ability to meet standards. “Our discharge remained in compliance,” he said.
Johnson Foods, which has been operating here for more than 60 years, intends to challenge the fine. In addition, Johnson said his company will investigate the Department of Ecology’s concerns and “…alleviate any issues of non-compliance.”
Johnson Foods has 30 days to file its appeal with the Pollution Control Hearings Board.