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EPA and Massachusetts Settlements ensure Company will Pay Nearly $1.5 Million for 2019 North River Fish Kill

Dec 07, 2021

Company will Compensate Massachusetts for Harms to Natural Resources and Cold Water Fishery; Ensure Safe Operation of Colrain, Mass. Bleaching Facility

BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Baker-Polito Administration announced today that Barnhardt Manufacturing Company, a North-Carolina-based cotton bleaching company, has agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million to settle allegations that it spilled dozens of gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid from its Colrain facility into the North River, killing more than 270,000 fish, including thousands of state-listed rare species.

The state and federal settlements will also require the company to take steps to comply with water pollution, hazard management, and chemical accident prevention laws at their bleaching facility and associated wastewater treatment facility.

According to the AG's complaint, on Sept.1, 2019, between approximately 53 and 60 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid sprayed out of an outdoor above-ground storage tank at Barnhardt's Colrain facility directly onto the ground. The AG's Office alleges that Barnhardt knew the storage tank had a leak and neglected to repair it. Dozens of gallons of acid allegedly flowed into a nearby brook and down a three mile stretch of the North River, a pristine river and popular recreational fishery that feeds into the Deerfield River. According to the complaint, the acid dissolved nearly everything in its path, killing more than 270,000 fish and damaging more than 14 acres of protected wetland resource areas and over 12 acres of designated habitat of two state-listed rare species—the Longnose Sucker fish and the Ocellated Darner dragonfly. Barnhardt also allegedly discharged wastewater from its facility in excess of permitted limits on numerous occasions, improperly operated and maintained its wastewater treatment facility, and mismanaged hazardous waste oil.

EPA's administrative settlement alleges, among other things, that the company failed to maintain its sulfuric acid tank in violation of the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act, which requires users of extremely hazardous substances to take steps to prevent and mitigate accidental releases.

"EPA's case complements the Commonwealth's by addressing the root cause of the spill," said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro. "It's critical that companies handling hazardous chemicals identify hazards and ensure that their facilities are designed and maintained safely. Carefully following the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention provisions helps prevent releases from occurring in the first place."

The AG's Office alleges Barnhardt's acid spill and facility operations violated numerous Massachusetts environmental laws and regulations, including the state Wetlands Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Waters Act, and Hazardous Waste Management Act, and gave rise to significant damages under the Commonwealth's Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act and Inland Fisheries Statute.

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"The sulfuric acid spill caused by this company was devastating for the Colrain community and left long-lasting damage to the North River," AG Healey said. "Today's settlements will hold Barnhardt accountable for harming this rich ecosystem and will provide significant funding to restore nearby natural resources and fisheries."

Under the terms of the settlement with the AG's Office, Barnhardt is required to comply with state regulations to protect water quality and natural resources at and around its facility and undertake additional training, planning, and operations to prevent future releases. Barnhardt will also pay up to $500,000 in penalties, including $200,000 to the Commonwealth's Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund. Barnhardt will also fund the replacement and/or enhancement of one or more culverts located in the Deerfield River watershed in Colrain, at a cost of $300,000. Additionally, Barnhardt will pay the state more than $360,000 to fund environmental restoration projects in the Colrain area, to compensate for the harm to natural resources and fisheries, and to reimburse the costs of assessing natural resource damages.

EPA's settlement requires a civil penalty payment of approximately $305,000 to the U.S. Treasury and work to ensure that chemical hazards at the plant are identified and addressed.

The state settlement was negotiated in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW). EPA brought its administrative case on a separate but parallel track.

More Info: General Duty Clause under the Clean Air Act

Contact Information: Emily Bender ([email protected]) (617) 918-1037

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