A Sumner business that spilled hundreds of gallons of wastewater into White River in May is facing a $20,000 fine.
This is Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company’s third water-quality violation since 2014. The company has paid $33,000 in prior penalties — $23,000 in 2014 for a 2,000-gallon spill and another $10,000 in 2016 for a 10,000-gallon spill, as previously reported by the The News Tribune.
“A third spill of this nature is completely unacceptable, and jeopardizes the health of the White River,” Rich Doenges, a manager in the Water Quality Program for the Department of Ecology, said in a press release.
Wastewater spills in rivers threaten salmon, sources of food for fish, such as bugs, and other wildlife. White River is home to chinook salmon, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The 326-gallon spill was caused by a faulty valve in the company’s pipeline, according to an inspection report by the Department of Ecology.
Ecology staff met with plant manager Russ Lagattuta for an inspection on May 31, the same day members of the Puyallup Tribe reported a “foamy vinegar discharge” coming from the company’s outfall pipe.
“The site visit began with Mr. Lagattuta showing us the location of the valve vault and explained how the isolation valve was left partially open which resulted in vinegar sludge and wash-down water bypassing the waste holding tanks that is used to hold wastewater ...The valve is never intended to be in the open position,” stated the report.
Company staff said they were unaware of the leak and said the valve must have been left open after a cleaning, which occurs every three months.
The company has since removed the faulty valve and sealed connecting pipes.
“We have taken corrective action to make sure this type of discharge does not take place in the future,” said Jim Stark, vice president of Green Plains Inc., which purchased the company in 2016. “Our goal remains to be good stewards of the environment at our Sumner location and at all of our locations around the country.”
Stark added that the company does not plan to appeal the $20,000 fine.
The last major spill in the city of Sumner was on Sept. 5 when a trailer carrying 4,000 gallons of corn syrup slid off the bed of a truck on Puyallup Street. The city was able to clean it up before it reached the river.
“It’s not common at all for this kind of thing to happen, so that’s why when it does happen, it’s all hands on deck,” said Robert Wright, local source control specialist for the city of Sumner.
Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company is located at 1700 Steele Ave. in Sumner, approximately 350 feet east of White River.