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Tannery hit with fines

August 12, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

State and federal authorities have assessed civil penalties totaling $126,000 against Garden State Tanning in Williamsport for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at its leather tanning and finishing plant at 15717 Clear Spring Road.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the action Wednesday.

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Garden State officials, who have the right to appeal the findings, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The EPA and Maryland Department of the Environment have cited Garden State for the following alleged violations:

- Intermittently, since 1995, violating waste water discharge permits by releasing excessive levels of pollutants into the Conococheague Creek and the Potomac River.

- Making unauthorized discharges of waste water into the Conococheague Creek.

- Improperly testing waste water discharged from the plant.

- Failing to fix a waste water diffuser.

The Maryland Department of the Environment assessed $50,000 in penalties against Garden State. The EPA assessed $76,000 in penalties.

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The state ordered Garden State to submit plans within 20 days to correct the problems.

The state environmental department said excessive levels of ammonia and chlorine released into the Conococheague Creek and Potomac River by the plant could be toxic to aquatic life, while excessive fecal coliform levels in waste water discharged from the plant "indicate a potential risk to human health."

Washington County Health Officer Dr. Robert Parker said the presence of fecal coliform in water is an indication of fecal contamination.

Fecal coliforms are a broad category of E. coli bacteria found in the intestinal tract of most mammals, he said.

Parker said some types of those bacteria, if swallowed, can make humans sick.

Parker said a high fecal coliform count only raises the possibility that some of the bacteria present might be the kind that causes illness in humans. "It's just an indicator," he said.

The state department of the environment alleges that the tannery has discharged higher than allowed levels of fecal coliform 12 times since 1995, including seven times in 1998. The agency alleged that on March 17, 1998, the level discharged was more than 80 times that allowed by the tannery's permit.

Both of the ammonia level violations occurred in June 1998, while a single chlorine violation occurred in 1995, the Maryland Department of the Environment alleged.

Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Quentin Banks said that when Garden State took over the former W.D. Byron and Sons tannery in September 1996, Garden State inherited Byron's environmental liabilities, and is therefore being held responsible for violations that occurred in 1995.

According to the EPA, the tannery was supposed to stop discharging waste water into the Conococheague no later than 1990 and seal the old discharge pipe so it couldn't be used. All waste water was supposed to go into the Potomac River.

The EPA alleged that from Nov. 11, 1996, until Jan. 3, 1997, the tannery continued to discharge waste water into the creek.

The EPA said that at the discharge point into the Potomac, a tannery diffuser was supposed to discharge waste water at the rate of 10 feet per second, so the waste water would mix quickly and completely with river water, diluting the pollutant levels.

The EPA alleged that from November 1996 to April 8, 1998, the diffuser either wasn't working right, or wasn't working at all. A new diffuser was installed in September 1997 but didn't work right, the agency said.

The EPA alleged that on Oct. 21, 1997, the Maryland Department of the Environment ordered the diffuser fixed within 10 days, but it wasn't fixed until April 9, 1998.

EPA Spokeswoman Ruth Podems said that without the diffuser, pollutants in the waste water were highly concentrated at the point at which they entered the creek and river.

"The gist of our complaint is that a lot of effluent with concentrated levels of pollutants was being discharged, which is bad for fish and other critters," Podems said.

Banks said Garden State will be allowed to continue operating while bringing its plant into compliance with state and federal regulations.

Garden State has 10 days to ask for an administrative hearing on the state agency's orders to correct the violations, and 30 days to appeal the state's penalty, state officials said. The company has 20 days to ask for a hearing from the EPA, they said.

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