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Garden State Tanning pays EPA fine

April 15, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

WILLIAMSPORT - A Williamsport company has agreed to pay a $54,900 fine to the Environmental Protection Agency for illegal dumping into the Potomac River and Conococheague Creek, the government said Thursday.

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The fine stemmed from an August citation that alleged Garden State Tanning violated the Clean Water Act.

The settlement averted a court battle over fines totaling $76,000 that the federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed last summer for the company's alleged violations of waste water discharge rules.

The company neither admitted nor denied the allegations, according to Vice President Glenn D. Thornley.

He said Garden State was pleased with the agreement and close to settling state charges that the Williamsport tannery exceeded permitted limits for fecal coliform bacteria, ammonia and chlorine in its waste water.

"The process has been what I would characterize as a good one," Thornley said.

Problems began at the Clear Spring Road plant in November 1996 when a diffuser broke down that had been diluting the company's discharge into the Potomac River, said EPA spokeswoman Donna M. Heron.

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Although the company did not dump more pollutants into the water than its permit allowed, the concentrations of ammonia and nitrates dumped were too high and harmed aquatic life, Heron said.

When the diffuser broke, Garden State Tanning got EPA permission to dump into the Conococheague Creek.

The company was supposed to monitor the discharge every other day, but instead filed routine monthly reports, Heron said.

In January 1997 the company switched its discharge back to the Potomac, but the diffuser continued to malfunction and wasn't replaced until April 1998, she said.

EPA found out about the problem because someone saw brown sludge in the Conococheague Creek and complained, Heron said.

Garden State still faces action by Maryland environmental officials, who have accused the company of releasing excessive levels of ammonia and chlorine into the water.

The company is in the process of negotiating that original $50,000 fine, said Maryland Department of Environment spokesman Quentin Banks.

The negotiation of the federal fine is standard practice when companies agree not to appeal the case to court, Heron said.

Garden State Tanning turns cow hides into leather for car seats. The water-intensive operation uses up to 750,000 gallons a day.

The company, with about 1,000 workers, is one of the 10 largest employers in Washington County.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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