Cement Plant Pays $7.5M for Polluting SF Bay

     (CN) – A large cement plant near Cupertino agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle charges brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it had dumped millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into a tributary of San Francisco Bay.
     The facility, owned by Hanson Permanente Cement Inc. and operated by Lehigh Southwest Cement Co., discharged wastewater containing levels of selenium in excess of its Clean Water Act permits into Permanente Creek from 2009 to 2014, the EPA said.
     Selenium – a naturally occurring element in limestone and other rock formations – becomes toxic to fish, birds and other wildlife when discharged at high concentrations into waterways. Permanente Creek, which flows into San Francisco Bay, is home to the California red-legged frog, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
     Millions of gallons of quarry-process water and stormwater that were discharged from Lehigh’s limestone mine and cement plant into the creek each year contained thousands of pounds of sediment and hundreds of pounds of selenium and other toxic metals, the EPA said.
     “Every action we take to remove selenium and other toxic metals improves water quality and leads to a healthier and more resilient bay,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.
     Under the settlement, announced on Wednesday, the facility will spend more than $5 million to construct an advanced wastewater treatment system to significantly reduce its discharge of selenium and other metals. Lehigh already installed an interim treatment system, with the permanent system expected to be completed by 2017.
     Lehigh will also pay $2.55 million in civil penalties.
     “This settlement will result in important reductions in pollutant discharges, in facility upgrades, and in improvements to help protect and restore water quality in Permanente Creek and San Francisco Bay,” said Bruce Wolfe, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board executive.
     Bringing the aging facility up to date and making sure that all industry members are held to the same standards will prevent companies from gaining an economic advantage over their competitors “by shortchanging environmental compliance,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources.
     Lehigh says it’s pleased with the settlement.
     “We are pleased to resolve these issues with an agreement that is aligned with our company’s commitment to operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” said Kari Saragusa, president of Lehigh Hanson, Inc.’s west region. “We are very proud of the innovative and ground-breaking technology we helped develop and implement to reduce waterborne selenium and other constituents. The new water treatment system at the Permanente facility is a clear example of our focus on continuous improvement in all aspects of our operations, including ongoing efforts to minimize our environmental footprint throughout the company.”

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