COLRAIN – The cotton bleaching company believed to be responsible for the deaths of more than 270,000 fish, including thousands of state-listed rare species, following an acid spill at its Colrain plant in 2019 agreed to pay nearly $ 1.5 million in settlement.
North Carolina-based Barnhardt Manufacturing Co. reportedly dumped dozens of gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid into the North River in September 2019. The incident wiped out marine life in the river, with locals reporting seeing dead dace. , bass, trout and longnose sucker. , and at least one inhabitant of Charlemont noting a temporary lack of living insects. The settlement was announced Tuesday by state attorney general Maura Healey, the Baker-Polito administration and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
“The sulfuric acid spill caused by this company has been devastating to the community of Colrain and caused lasting damage to the North River,” Healey said in a statement. “Today’s settlements will hold Barnhardt responsible for the damage to this rich ecosystem and provide significant funding to restore natural resources and nearby fisheries.”
State and federal regulations will also require Barnhardt to take action to comply with laws on water pollution, risk management, and chemical accident prevention at their bleaching facility and associated wastewater treatment facility. .
According to a press release from the Attorney General’s office, approximately 53 to 60 gallons of acid was sprayed from an outdoor aboveground storage tank at the Colrain facility, directly onto the ground, on September 1, 2019. The office Attorney General alleges Barnhardt knew the storage tank was leaking and neglected to repair it.
“Dozens of gallons of acid are said to have flowed into a nearby creek and down a 3-mile stretch of the North River, a pristine river and popular recreational fishery that feeds the Deerfield River,” the statement said. According to the complaint, the acid dissolved almost everything in its path, damaging over 14 acres of protected wetland resource areas and over 12 acres of habitat designated for the red sucker and the Ocellated Darner dragonfly – two rare species. listed by the state. Barnhardt also reportedly dumped sewage from his facility beyond his permitted limits on several occasions, improperly operated and maintained his sewage treatment facility, and mismanaged hazardous waste oils.
Attorney General’s Office says the acid spill and Barnhardt Facility operations violated Massachusetts environmental laws and regulations, including the state’s Wetland Protection Act, endangered species, the Clean Waters Act and the Hazardous Waste Management Act, and “have resulted in significant damage under the Commonwealth of Oil and Waste Act.” Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Law and Inland Fisheries Law.
Barnhardt is required by the terms of the regulation to comply with state regulations to protect the water quality and natural resources in and around its facilities, and to undertake additional training, planning and operations to prevent releases in the future, the press release said. Barnhardt will also pay up to $ 500,000 in penalties, including $ 200,000 to the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund, and will fund “the replacement and / or improvement of one or more culverts located in the the Deerfield River at Colrain, at a cost of $ 300,000. In addition, the company will provide the state with more than $ 360,000 to fund environmental restoration projects in the Colrain area, to compensate for damage to natural resources and to fishing, and to reimburse costs. ‘assessment of damage to natural resources.
In a statement, Barnhardt president and chief operating officer Lewis Barnhardt said the family-owned fourth-generation business has taken its responsibilities seriously and has worked to resolve issues identified at the Colrain site, by recruiting experts to perform inspections, reviews and maintenance.
“At the time of the accident, the tank was surrounded by a concrete containment structure. A small drop – at a drip rate of around once every five minutes – was observed around the supply piping on the side of the tank in late August 2019, ”he said. “It was believed that the drip came from a connection or a joint and was fully retained within the concrete containment area. The company had previously decided to replace the tank and no longer allow it to carry more materials. “
The president and chief operating officer said the company previously decided to replace the tank and no longer allow it to take more materials. Later, and before the spill, the company decided to completely remove the tank. When the spill was discovered, the tank was quickly emptied, decommissioned, dismantled and removed, Barnhardt said.
“We have a long history of engagement in Western Massachusetts, where many of our employees worked for generations at our site before owning one and which we consider to be family,” he wrote. As a company, we have strongly supported the community for many years through annual grants to schools and nonprofits, sponsoring a local Little League team, and providing strong multi-year support to provide food for the elderly through the Western Massachusetts Food Bank.
According to the state, the EPA by-law says the company did not maintain its sulfuric acid tank in violation of the general duty clause of the Clean Air Act, which requires users of substances extremely dangerous to take measures to prevent and mitigate accidental releases. EPA regulations require payment of a civil fine of approximately $ 305,000 to the US Treasury and work to ensure chemical hazards at the plant are identified and addressed.
“The (the) EPA’s case complements that of the Commonwealth by addressing the root cause of the spill,” Deb Szaro, EPA’s acting regional administrator, said in the press release. “It is essential that companies that handle hazardous chemicals identify the hazards and ensure that their facilities are designed and maintained to be safe. Carefully following the chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act helps prevent releases in the first place.
The state’s settlement was negotiated in conjunction with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s Fisheries and Wildlife Division. The EPA conducted its administrative case on a separate but parallel track, the statement said.
“The acid spill at Colrain devastated the natural resources of the North River. These regulations will help prevent future spills and compensate the public for the environmental damage that has been caused, ”MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg said in the statement. “These regulations will also help ensure that Barnhardt meets its effluent limits and toxicity levels, as required by Clean Water Act regulations.”
“The North River is a major fishing and recreational asset that has been severely affected by the release of industrial acid from the Barnhardt facility,” said Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary of State for Energy and Environmental Affairs. “This appalling situation was entirely preventable, and we hope that the regulations and improvements to the facility will prevent similar occurrences in the future while helping to restore these local fisheries and natural resources.”
Contact Domenic Poli at: [email protected] or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.