A Southern California soft drink bottler has agreed to pay more than $1 million in fines over polluted wastewater discharged into the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.
Industrial runoff from the 7-Up/RC Bottling Co. factories in Vernon and Buena Park included acidic soda byproducts and petroleum-based substances harmful to marine life and human health, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said Thursday.
"This is a signal that those in the bottling industry need to be in compliance with the Clean Water Act," said EPA Regional Administrator Wayne Nastri.
The company pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to 12 criminal counts of violating the Clean Water Act. Defense attorney Harland Braun said afterward: "The condition has been corrected. We've spent almost $2 million at both plants.... We think the settlement is reasonable."
Amy Miller, the EPA enforcement officer in charge of the investigation, said discharge violation cases against bottling plants are periodically brought and settled nationwide. She called it "the largest settlement we've ever had against a bottler."
Nastri said the EPA is concerned about industrial runoff, because in large concentrations it can cause skin rashes and other maladies when people come into contact with it as it flows down rivers to the beach. No illnesses were reported from the 7-Up/RC plants' discharges.
In court papers, 7-Up/RC Bottling Co. of Southern California agreed to a $600,000 criminal fine, the maximum penalty, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. Half of the fine will help fund environmental projects run by Channel Islands National Park, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Los Angeles County.
On Oct. 18, the company also agreed to pay a $428,000 fine to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the EPA over the same allegations, but 7-Up/RC did not admit wrongdoing.
The EPA alleged in its criminal case that the Vernon plant, at 3220 E. 26th St., allowed a collection pit containing lubrication oil, hydraulic oil, grease, corn sugars and rejected vats of soft drinks to overflow into the Los Angeles River on five occasions from Oct. 9, 2002, to Jan. 22, 2003.
Acidic water at the Buena Park plant, 7225 Orangethorpe Ave., was illegally sent into the sewers six times in October 2003, court papers say. Such runoff can corrode sewer pipes and damage wastewater treatment plants, the EPA said. The complaint also cited the company for dumping wastewater into a tributary of the San Gabriel River without a permit.
The firm agreed to install a water treatment system in Buena Park and control runoff at the Vernon plant.