A spokesperson for Cargill told us:
“We have jointly decided to settle the dispute with the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance of Seattle and Re Sources for Sustainable Communities of Bellingham.
"We thought this was the best decision for everyone involved in the matter.
“Environmental stewardship is important to Cargill. Over the last several years, we have worked very closely with the state of Washington Department of Ecology and city officials in Ferndale to help ensure our plant is compliant with local and state stormwater regulations, and we will continue to operate in an environmentally responsible manner.”
The environmental groups had brought the action against Cargill, claiming it had violated the US Clean Water Act by releasing polluted stormwater from its animal feed plant in Ferndale. The campaigners filed the lawsuit in August in the US District Court for Western Washington.
Zinc and copper in runoff
The groups alleged that Ferndale Grain has released stormwater that was too cloudy and that had too much zinc and copper after heavy rains. The water is discharged into a ditch that flows into larger waterways and eventually Puget Sound, according to the suit.
As part of the agreement entered into US District Court, Cargill has agreed to expand and upgrade its existing stormwater runoff treatment systems that will help reduce levels of zinc in runoff from the Cargill facility, said Puget Soundkeeper in a statement.
“Zinc is a heavy metal that can be damaging for both people and salmon. Cargill will also take steps to ensure that copper, oil and fecal coliform levels in runoff from the plant don’t exceed what is allowed by their Department of Ecology stormwater discharge permit. Cargill has also agreed to rigorously adhere to a series of pollution prevention practices and to regularly sample stormwater discharges from the facility for copper, zinc, fecal coliform, biological oxygen demand, nitrate, and phosphorus.”
Under the Clean Water Act, industrial facilities such as Cargill’s Ferndale facility are required to monitor stormwater discharges and treat the water if necessary to reduce pollutants to levels that are safer for people, fish, and wildlife.
Most of the stormwater discharge from the Cargill facility flows into Schell Creek, a fragile waterway that is a tributary of the Lummi River. Both streams support habitat for coho salmon, chum salmon and coastal cutthroat trout, as well as threatened Chinook salmon.
“The improvements that Cargill has agreed to make will result in cleaner, healthier waterways downstream, which will benefit aquatic life and human health. This settlement builds on Cargill’s existing efforts to reduce contaminants in stormwater discharges from the facility,” continued the campaigners.
The settlement includes a payment of US $70,000 to fund supplemental environmental restoration projects, or SEPs, which is customary in community settlements like this one, said the environmental group. This funding will go to third-party organizations or community groups doing work to protect or restore the waterways in the area, to offset damage done, it added.