Leonard C Boyle, 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 was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Kari A. Dooley in Bridgeport for violating the Clean Water Act by 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 Utility”), a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, owns and operates the factory.
Judge Dooley ordered that Marmon Utility will be under federal probation for three years and must pay $2.4 million to the government: $800,000 as a federal penalty and a $1.6 million community service payment to remediate the Naugatuck River, as administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“CT DEEP”). Marmon Utility pleaded guilty to the offense on December 21, 2021.
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 Utility 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 Utility 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 Utility ran the system for at least 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 plant’s ability to treat 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 Utility’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 Utility based on, among other evidence:
- The Marmon Utility 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 Utility 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 Utility’s CT DEEP permit.
- The lead concentration in water samples taken from Marmon Utility’s final discharge tank, which flows to the Seymour sewage treatment plant, was 69 times greater than the permissible limit in Marmon Utility’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 to September 29, 2016, the Marmon Utility 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 did not even have access to the system’s operational manuals.
In fact, these Marmon Utility 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 Utility’s wastewater treatment system held 1,000 gallons of sludge.
In addition to improperly operating and maintaining the wastewater treatment system and sludge-processing equipment at the Seymour factory, Marmon Utility 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.
This matter was investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Chen, with assistance from the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General.