Clean Water Act Enforcement Action Initiated Against Electroplating Facility on Santa Clara River

Posted in: United States Water News, Water Contamination, Water dispute
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Santa Clara River Estuary (Photo credit: EDC)

Article courtesy of Environmental Defense Center  | October 21, 2015 | Environmental Defense Center | Shared as educational material

General Magnaplate Faces Potential Federal Lawsuit for Illegal Storm Water Discharges

Ventura, CA – Today the Environmental Defense Center (“EDC”) and Keller Rohrback L.L.P. notified global coating company General Magnaplate of EDC’s intent to sue the company for allegedly operating its electroplating facility in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

The notice letter alleges that the facility is illegally discharging storm water containing pollutants, including zinc and aluminum, into the Santa Clara River, less than two miles from where the River flows into the Pacific Ocean.  The Santa Clara River, southern California’s last naturally free-flowing major river, is critical to the communities’ health and recreation, and is home to numerous endangered species.

EDC and Keller Rohrback’s investigation has revealed that, over the past five years, General Magnaplate has apparently continuously violated California’s General Industrial Storm Water Permit (“General Permit”) by discharging iron, zinc, aluminum, and other pollutants in concentrations that are magnitudes above lawful limits.

“General Magnaplate’s ongoing pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act threatens our communities, beach-goers, and the numerous species that rely on this important watershed,” stated Maggie Hall, Staff Attorney at the Environmental Defense Center. “By notifying General Magnaplate of our intent to sue, we hope to force them to clean up their operations and protect the Santa Clara River from polluted runoff.”

“Keller Rohrback takes environmental enforcement seriously, and we look forward to advocating for clean water in Ventura County on behalf of and in partnership with EDC,” said Matthew Preusch, an attorney with Keller Rohrback, a national firm with offices in Santa Barbara that served as co-counsel in a Clean Water Act enforcement case against Magic Mountain, and currently represents fishers, tour companies, and others affected by the May 19 rupture of Plains All American Pipeline’s Line 901 at Refugio State Beach.

According to General Magnaplate’s own monitoring data, on one occasion, the facility discharged zinc at 17 times the legal standard.  In addition, the facility handles hazardous waste, but fails to sample its discharges for pollutants associated with such waste, such as ammonium, magnesium, arsenic, and others, as required by the permit.  Facilities in the metal finishing industry, such as Magnaplate, utilize various hazardous materials that, when conveyed in storm water discharges, pose substantial risk to the environment, human health and recreation, such as swimming, kayaking, fishing, and surfing at the mouth of the River.

The General Permit is intended to protect our state’s waterways from pollution caused by storm water runoff from industrial facilities.  Storm water is among the nation’s top sources of water contamination, as significant quantities of pollution enter our waterways when it rains.  Under the General Permit, industrial facilities must implement best management practices designed to reduce the pollutants in their runoff.  Electroplating facilities like General Magnaplate are required to collect and analyze storm water samples for iron, zinc, aluminum, and other pollutants.

The Santa Clara River was listed in 2005 as the 10th most endangered U.S. waterway.   It also provides crucial aquatic ecosystem functions in the region, including groundwater recharge and riparian habitat.  The River is home to as many as 17 species listed as threatened or endangered, and includes critical habitat for many species, including the Santa Ana Sucker, Tidewater Goby, Unarmored Threespine Stickleback, California Red Legged Frog, Arroyo Toad, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, Least Bell’s Vireo, and the Southern California Steelhead.

General Magnaplate has been in operation since 1980, and has global corporate headquarters in New Jersey.  The facility is engaged in low volume powder and regular spray coating applications, metal heat treatment and curing of powder and sprayed coatings, thermal application of powdered metals, abrasive blasting, and plating and anodizing processes.  It is also generally engaged in the storage and transport of chemicals and hazardous materials.  It has failed, however, to implement practices at its site that prevent runoff of harmful pollution during significant rain events.  In addition, it has failed to analyze storm water samples for all pollutants that the Permit requires, indicating that the public remains unaware of the full extent of the facility’s pollution.

Under the Clean Water Act, potential litigants must send a 60-day notice of intent to sue before lawsuits can be filed alleging that a facility is in violation of the Act.  While EDC and Keller Rohrback are committed to pursuing legal remedies if necessary, their hope is that submission of the notice will prompt General Magnaplate to comply with its mandatory permit requirements, thereby protecting water quality, without court intervention.

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The Environmental Defense Center, a non-profit law firm, protects and enhances the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community based organizations to advance environmental protection.  Program areas include climate and energy, and protecting clean water, the Santa Barbara Channel, and open space and wildlife. Learn more about EDC at www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org 

Keller Rohrback L.L.P. is a national firm with extensive experience in environmental litigation. Attorneys from Keller Rohrback’s complex litigation group have served as lead and co-lead counsel in class actions throughout the country, obtaining settlements and judgments in excess of seven billion dollars. With offices in Santa Barbara, Seattle, Phoenix, New York, and Montana, our trial and appellate attorneys are proud to offer their expertise and advocate on behalf of clients nationwide. The firm’s environmental litigation practice dates back to its role as trial counsel in the Exxon Valdez litigation. Additional info at www.krcomplexlit.com.

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