Pa. company pleads guilty to polluting environment

Manufacturer to pay $450,000 to three states


May 14, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

An international chemical manufacturing company with a plant on Fort Avenue pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to environmental violations in Baltimore and in two other states, agreeing to pay about $450,000 in fines as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

PQ Corp., based in Valley Forge, Pa., and with worldwide operations, will also donate an additional $50,000 to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and pay $60,000 restitution to the mayor's office and City Council, according to the plea agreement.

The agreement and sentencing come five years after prosecutors say the company violated federal environmental laws in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Michael Cunningham and defense attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said in court that the company appears to have revamped its environmental policies since prosecutors say it dumped wastewater into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River more than five years ago.

"It's a new day at the PQ Corp.," Bernstein told U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis. He said the company has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to guarantee it operates in an environmentally safe manner.

The Maryland charges stem from a March 17, 1999, incident, in which prosecutors say PQ's Baltimore plant illegally released "strong water" into a storm drain that fed into the Middle Branch.

Bernstein said the plant had a power failure that day and that without its machinery working, the plant faced a build-up of processed water - a byproduct of the company's manufacturing.

"Plant personnel wrongfully discharged processed water down the drain, and it went into the harbor," Bernstein said.

He added that there was no evidence of any environmental harm caused by the discharge.

Maryland prosecutors charged the company with knowingly discharging a "pollutant" - a less serious offense than dumping a "hazardous substance" or a "toxic substance."

In the Pennsylvania and Missouri cases, which were transferred to be prosecuted alongside the Maryland case, prosecutors said PQ Corp. improperly disposed of its wastewater, damaging area sewer lines.

Yesterday, PQ agreed to pay a $225,000 fine for the Maryland violation, a $200,000 fine for the Pennsylvania violation and $25,000 for the Missouri violation.

The $50,000 donation to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be used to improve water quality in the Bay by reducing erosion and nutrient runoff, according to the plea agreement.

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