Lehigh Hanson’s Cupertino cement plant will pay $7.5 million as part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to settle charges it dumped millions of gallons of toxic wastewater into a nearby creek, reported the San Jose Mercury News.
Under the settlement, the facility, owned by Hanson Permanente Cement and operated by Lehigh Southwest Cement, will be required to spend $5 million to install an advanced wastewater treatment plant. The company also will pay $2.55 million in civil penalties to the government.
From 2009 to 2014, the quarry discharged wastewater containing levels of selenium – a naturally occurring element that is toxic to fish, birds and other wildlife – in excess of its permits into Permanente Creek, which flows into San Francisco Bay.
Although the discharges did not harm human health, they did harm a variety of wildlife species, including several species of fish and California red-legged frogs, said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator in San Francisco.
“This was pretty serious,” stated Blumenfeld. “Ultimately, the reason that this and other pollution sources to the bay are important is that the bay is still in peril. The pollution that we think is largely abated because of the Clean Water Act still continues, and this is a pretty major pollution source into San Francisco Bay.” Blumenfeld said his agency also is closely monitoring the plant’s air emissions.
Lehigh Hanson, which has a regional headquarters in San Ramon, said work is already underway to reduce water pollution. “We are pleased to resolve these issues with an agreement that is aligned with our company’s commitment to operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” said Kari Saragusa, president of Lehigh Hanson’s West region. “We are very proud of the innovative and ground-breaking technology we helped develop and implement to reduce waterborne selenium and other constituents. The new water treatment system at the Permanente facility is a clear example of our focus on continuous improvement in all aspects of our operations.”