Mar 20, 2024 - Business

Campbell Soup accused of polluting Lake Erie with discharges from Ohio plant

Remote View, Cleveland, Ohio, Skyline, from Lakewood Park, Ohio.

A view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland, Ohio, skyline, from Lakewood Park, Ohio. Photo: Arthur Gurmankin/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Campbell Soup was hit with a lawsuit from the Department of Justice and another from environmental groups on Wednesday over allegations that its plant in northwestern Ohio pollutes Lake Erie.

The big picture: The DOJ accuses Campbell of since 2018 violating pollution restrictions outlined in permits for the Napoleon factory along the Lake Erie tributary Maumee River by discharging contaminants including phosphorous and bacteria.

  • That lawsuit, filed in Toledo on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Clean Water Act, came hours after non-profits Environment America and Lake Erie Waterkeeper filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the company.
  • The complaints allege the firm committed thousands of Clean Water Act violations by "discharging wastewater with illegally high levels of phosphorous, the prime chemical contributor to Lake Erie's algal blooms; E. coli bacteria; oil and grease; suspended solids and other harmful pollutants," per an emailed statement from the groups.

Zoom in: Campbell has in recent years taken steps to improve wastewater treatment at the Napoleon facility, efforts that the National Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups, acknowledged in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

  • Since receiving the law center's notice of intent to sue in July 2023, the company has been in contact with the group and the DOJ to outline efforts to address permit compliance.
  • "We commend Campbell for its willingness to work cooperatively with us and the federal government to forthrightly address its longstanding compliance problems rather than spend its time litigating," said Josh Kratka, a senior attorney at the National Environmental Law Center, in the group's statement.
  • "Filing our lawsuit today will simply enable us to move forward quickly should negotiations break down later."

What they're saying: A spokesperson for Campbell Soup said the company takes this matter very seriously.

  • "We will continue to take immediate action to address this and have capital investments planned to resolve this issue permanently," the spokesperson added.
  • "We will continue to work with regulators and other stakeholders to improve our operations and comply with all environmental regulations."
  • Representatives for the DOJ and U.S. Attorney's Office in northern Ohio did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
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