Fujicolor Processing agreed to pay a $200,000 criminal fine for discharging excessive amounts of silver-tainted photo processing waste to a Texas wastewater treatment plant, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced.
Fujicolor pleaded guilty to one count of negligently violating a requirement of its pretreatment permit at its photo-processing facility in Terrell, Texas.
Based on an internal investigation, Fujicolor discovered that from 1999 through July 2002 employees were selectively reporting to the city only test results that fell within permit limits. Industrial facilities report results to local agencies for permit compliance purposes. Employees would send part of a sample to a laboratory for screening and, if the sample met permit limits, it would be submitted to the city. If a sample did not meet the silver limit, employees would keep collecting samples until they found one that fell within allowable limits. Fujicolor discovered similar problems at its facilities in New Britain, Conn., and Tukwila, Wash.
"By 'cherry-picking' samples, Fuji's employees undermined federal and state permit programs," said Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for the EPA's enforcement and compliance assurance program.
EPA requires that industry pre-treat toxic pollutants chemicals in their wastes in order to protect local sewers and wastewater treatment plants. Local agencies must regulate industrial facilities by issuing permits, conducting inspections, sampling wastewater and reviewing each facility's monitoring data.
In July 2002, the city of Terrell fined the facility $105,725 for exceeding its monthly limit for silver, based on samples submitted by the facility.
Fujicolor disclosed the findings of its investigation to federal and local officials. The company has since taken action to address the environmental problems, including firing employees responsible for violations and putting safeguards in place to prevent additional violations.
This investigation was conducted by the EPA's Criminal Investigations Division, and the Texas Department of Environmental Quality. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Northern District of Texas.