Cargill plant fined over cut wastewater samples

(Dave Bedard photo)

One of the largest beef packing plants in Canada has been slapped with an $80,000 fine after reporting “errors” in its wastewater data in early 2012.

Alberta’s Provincial Court levied the fine against the Canadian arm of Cargill for “failing to immediately report intentionally-diluted wastewater samples” from its High River, Alta. plant, the provincial environment department said in a release Wednesday.

The offenses in question took place in the beef plant between February and March 2012, the province said.

According to an agreed statement of facts signed Monday by attorneys for the company and Crown, the company was running a wastewater treatment study, required as part of the plant’s environmental approval, led by an unnamed employee between July 2011 and April 2012.

The study involved testing the use of alum dosing in the plant’s wastewater to reduce phosphorus loads before treated wastewater would be discharged into nearby Frank Lake.

In February and March 2012, the lawyers wrote, the employee “tampered” with composite wastewater samples from the plant, injecting more alum directly into the samples before they went to an external lab for analysis.

The tampering “had the effect of making the total phosphorus in Cargill’s treated wastewater appear artificially low,” the statement said.

Other Cargill employees and their managers confronted the employee on April 11, at which time he admitted to tampering with the samples for March.

On April 16, the same employee admitted to tampering with the February samples, and quit — at which time a Cargill manager reported to the provincial environment department that there were “potential errors” in the company’s March report.

Cargill on April 23 further reported that samples were found to have been tampered with on “three separate sampling days,” the statement said.

All that said, no evidence was found that showed a higher-than-allowed phosphorus load in the High River plant’s wastewater at that time, nor that it led to “any measurable environmental harm.”

Monthly averages gauged by Cargill’s own internal lab showed that for the month of February 2012, the phosphorus level in wastewater averaged about 40.2 kg per day, followed by 40.7 kg per day in March.

As a condition of the High River plant’s environmental approval, the phosphorus load was limited to a maximum daily average of 40 kg/day, and a daily maximum of no more than 80 kg per day, the statement noted.

The ex-employee, the statement noted, had been considered “well qualified” to manage the testing project, was “familiar” with the conditions of the plant’s provincial environmental approval and was authorized to run such an experiment. –– Network



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