California cement quarry settles Clean Water Act violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Justice and the State of California announced that a settlement has been reached with a Cupertino, California cement plant to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act.

Lehigh Cement is a facility of Hanson Permanente Cement Inc., operated by Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. According to the EPA the plant violated the Clean Water Act between 2009 and 2014, when the company regularly discharged selenium into Permanente Creek, a tributary of San Francisco Bay. The discharges exceeded standards for total suspended solids, total dissolved solids, turbidity and pH. In some cases the standards for mercury, hexavalent chromium, nickel and thallium were also surpassed. 

"EPA and California are working together to enforce the Clean Water Act and help restore San Francisco Bay," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. "Every action we take to remove selenium and other toxic metals improves water quality and leads to a healthier and more resilient Bay."

According to the terms of the settlement the Cupertino facility will spend more than $5 million to install wastewater treatment systems and will develop other improvements to prevent future violations. It will also pay $2.55 million in civil penalties.

Selenium is a naturally occurring element in many rock formations, including limestone. When discharged at high concentrations, such as Lehigh Cement's release of hundreds of pounds of the toxic metal per year, it can become toxic to aquatic life and other animals that consume selenium-contaminated aquatic organisms. Permanente Creek is home to a number of species, including some protected under the Endangered Species Act, making compliance with the Clean Water Act even more necessary. This can be accomplished with the help of environmental consultants, who can ensure federal laws are being followed without hindering business processes.