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The federal court in Pittsburgh has imposed a $8.2 million penalty on Allegheny Ludlum Corp. for chronic violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act at the company's Pittsburgh-area steel mills and finishing plants.
In a 33-page decision, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Cindrich imposed the penalty for 1,122 days of unlawful pollution discharges from Allegheny Ludlum's mills in Brackenridge, West Leechburg and Vandergrift.
Judge Cindrich's penalty was one of the largest ever imposed in the nation for a water pollution case, exceeded in the mid-Atlantic region only by a $12.6 million penalty in 1997 against Smithfield Foods in Virginia.
The penalty follows a six-week jury trial in January and February, 2001, and a court ruling finding the company liable for Clean Water Act permit violations from July 1990 through February 1997.
"This decision should send a clear message that pollution does not pay, and EPA is committed to full enforcement of the Clean Water Act," said EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Thomas Voltaggio.
The government's lawsuit, filed in June 1995 by the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of EPA, alleged chronic, severe violations of Clean Water Act limits on discharges of toxic pollutants, including chromium, copper, zinc, nickel, as well as oil.
The violations involved exceedences of state-issued Clean Water Act permits limiting discharges from the Brackenridge facility (which includes the Natrona plant) to the Allegheny River; discharges from the West Leechburg facility (including the Bagdad plant) to the Kiskiminetas River; and discharges from
the Vandergrift plant to the local sewage treatment plant, which in turn discharges into the Kiskiminetas River.
The court found that a significant penalty was arranted by the substantial number, magnitude, and environmental and public health threat of these violations, which included 893 violations of toxic pollutant limits.
There were 180 days when the company exceeded permit limits by at least 1,000 percent, and a "notorious" oil spill from West Leechburg in July 1994, which spread a sheen 30 miles downstream.
"The court can only conclude that the violations continued because defendant did not consider compliance with the (Clean Water) Act a priority," Judge Cindrich wrote.
In setting the penalty, the court doubled the company's $4,122,335 "economic benefit of non-compliance," the sum saved by the company by avoiding or delaying expenditures for wastewater treatment equipment, spill control programs, and staffing that would have been necessary to comply with the law.
The court recognized that Allegheny Ludlum has improved its environmental compliance record in recent years, but observed that "this form of good faith sprung not from internal willingness to comply with its statutory obligations," but from "more intense government enforcement."