Seattle Barrel Reconditioning Company & Owner Convicted for 10 Years of Water Pollution

Jan. 4, 2022

According to DOJ, the company used a hidden drain and pump to routinely dump highly caustic pollutants into King County sewer system

A barrel cleaning and reconditioning operation, Seattle Barrel and Cooperage Company, and its owner, Louie Sanft, 55, were convicted of conspiracy, making false statements, and 33 Clean Water Act violations. 

This follows a three-week jury trial, according to the U.S. Attorney Nick Brown, reported the DOJ.  

Investigators with the EPA documented a conspiracy to illegally dump caustic waste into Seattle, Washington's, King County sewer system, which empties into Puget Sound.  

The company used a hidden drain for over 10 years and lied to regulators, reported the DOJ. Sentencing for Sanft and the company is scheduled in front of the U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones on Mar. 25, 2022.

“While publicly claiming to follow environmental best practices, in private the company was illegally sending thousands of gallons of caustic wastewater into the sewer system,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown in the DOJ news release. “The highly corrosive wastewater can damage equipment that cleans wastewater, and further pollutes our fragile Puget Sound. I commend the investigators with EPA and King County, who uncovered this conspiracy and our team who successfully held Mr. Sanft and the company accountable.”

Seattle Barrel’s business collects used industrial and commercial drums, reconditioning and reselling them. Part of the reconditioning process involved washing the barrels in a highly-corrosive chemical solution, which has a very high pH level. According to the DOJ, since at least 2009, Seattle Barrel has operated under a discharge permit that prohibits it from dumping effluent with a pH exceeding 12 to the sewer system.

King County conducted covert monitoring of Seattle Barrel in 2013 and discovered the company was illegally dumping effluent with a pH above 12, violating its permit. King County fined the company $55,250 and then reduced the fine when Seattle Barrel installed a pretreatment system for its wastewater.  

Additional covert monitoring by the EPA inspectors in 2018 and 2019 revealed that Seattle Barrel was continuing to routinely dump wastewater with a pH above 12 into the sewer system. 

Agents discovered a portable pump on the floor near the tank of caustic solution, which was used to pump solution to a nearby hidden drain that had never been disclosed to King County. The drain led directly to the sewer system, reported DOJ.

Louie Sanft, owner and operator of Seattle Barrel, was convicted of conspiracy, 29 violations of the Clean Water Act for discharging pollutants to the sewer, four counts of submission of False Clean Water Act Certifications, and making a false statement to special agents of the EPA. 

Sanft faces up to 5 years in prison on the conspiracy and false statement counts, and up to three years in prison for each violation of the Clean Water Act.  His cousin John Sanft, the plant manager, is scheduled for a separate trial on the charges in March 2022.  

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Cristina Tuser

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