UPDATE: Feds hit Starkist with millions in fines

StarKist to pay $6.3Mil in civil penalties for environmental violations
fili@samoanews.com

StarKist Co. and its American Samoa based subsidiary StarKist Samoa Inc., will pay $6.3 million in civil penalties, under an agreement reached with the federal government, over alleged violations relating to wastewater treatment and compliance matters at the cannery plant in Atu’u.

This is according to federal court records, as well as a joint statement released yesterday from the US Justice Department and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

As part of the agreement, through a “consent decree", the two companies will be required to make a series of upgrades to reduce pollution, improve safety measures, and comply with important federal environmental laws at their tuna processing facility in the territory.

Under the agreement, USDOJ says StarKist will pay a $6.3 million penalty and provide emergency response equipment to the territory’s Department of Public Safety, Fire Services Bureau, for use in responding to chemical releases.

Acting US Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of USDOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division calls the settlement “a significant environmental win for the community of American Samoa.”

USDOJ “will continue to identify violations and enforce federal laws designed to protect the environment and the public,” Wood said in the joint statement yesterday. “As a result of this action, StarKist has already performed a significant amount of work to correct its violations and we will continue to work together with our partners to bring the facility back into compliance and prevent future violations.”

Acting Regional Administrator Alexis Strauss with the EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region said the agreement “will help prevent hazardous releases at the StarKist facility, protect workers and the local community, and reduce pollution discharged into Pago Pago Harbor by more than 13 million pounds each year.”

Working with its partners at the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency, Strauss said, they will monitor the company’s progress towards full compliance with all federal environmental rules.

StarKist president and chief executive officer, Andrew Choe said the company is “committed to American Samoa and its people” by being a socially responsible company and doing the right thing.

“Our company is committed to investing in the technology and equipment needed to address compliance issues at the StarKist Samoa plant,” he said via a company statement. “While this process is long-term in nature, we will continue to work closely with the [US]EPA as we focus on these improvements until we meet and exceed compliance and environmental performance laws and standards.”

StarKist, which acknowledged the $6.3 million penalty outlined in the consent decree, said that in addition to capital improvement at the facility in Atu’u, the company offered a training session in American Samoa with the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC) in July this year.

It also met with the territory’s Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS), the Territorial Emergency Management Coordinating Office (TEMCO, a bureau of ASDHS), the Fire Bureau hazardous materials team, and other first responders.

According to StarKist these forums have allowed the company to identify emergency response equipment needs within the territory. As a result, StarKist said it will purchase 12 protective suits and 12 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units to support American Samoa’s emergency response efforts.

This project, said StarKist, was undertaken in “connection with the settlement of an enforcement action" - referring to the civil complaint by the USDOJ filed on behalf of USEPA.

COMPLAINT

According to the federal complaint, it was around July 3, 2014 that ASEPA received reports that the water in inner Pago Pago Harbor, near the StarKist facility, was visibly discolored. The day before (July 2), representatives of ASEPA observed and reported that the water near the outfall in inner Pago Pago Harbor was discolored, murky, bubbling, and there was a strong odor being emitted from the water.

On July 3rd, ASEPA issued an order to StarKist to cease operations at the facility or to cease engaging in any activities responsible for creating an unauthorized discharge of pollutants to inner Pago Pago Harbor until the outfall was repaired in accordance with the stop order to cease operations.

StarKist was required under the stop order notice to report the discharges to the USEPA Region 9 immediately, according to the complaint, which states that StarKist did not report the discharges or rupture to Region 9 until July 30, when it submitted a report of its response and investigation of the rupture through July 14.

At that time, the USEPA began investigating the facility after monitoring reports submitted by StarKist revealed wastewater pollutant levels that consistently exceeded permitted levels, according to USDOJ.

USEPA’s investigations revealed that StarKist had changed the composition of the facility’s discharged wastewater such that its existing wastewater treatment system was inadequate.

After full implementation of the wastewater treatment system upgrades, the facility’s annual discharge of pollutants into Pago Pago Harbor, including total nitrogen, phosphorus, oil and grease, and total suspended solids, will be reduced by at least 85 percent – a total reduction of more than 13 million pounds of wastewater pollutants each year.

In addition to wastewater violations, USEPA also found that StarKist was improperly storing ammonia, butane, and chlorine gas, which the facility used on-site for refrigeration, operation of forklifts, and disinfection.

The federal Clean Air Act requires companies to operate safely in order to prevent the release of hazardous chemicals that can harm workers and the surrounding community, said USDOJ.

The 59-page complaint, filed at the federal court in Pittsburgh, outlines specific details of several allegations of violations of federal environmental laws.

Samoa News will report in future editions, on the details from the consent decree between the feds and StarKist.

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