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Industrial Wastewater Liability

October 8, 2018
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Water pollution violations are far more common than they should be. Punishment can result in civil and criminal violations, which may or may not lead to jail time. Decisions are typically dependent upon whether or not defendants understood that what they were doing was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act and continued to do it anyway. The Clean Water Act governs water pollution. Its mission is to prevent water pollution and maintain the integrity of the world’s water sources. Part of this includes the improvement of wastewater treatment. Violations of the Clean Water Act can result in up to 3 years of jail, and violations of other laws that regulate the handling and disposal of hazardous waste hold similar penalties.


Wastewater officials should understand what sorts of behaviors can be a violation of permits that turn into criminal violations. Some of the most common violations include failing to report spills, falsifying test results, or concealing permit violations. While violation of just about any environmental regulation can lead to a fine, it isn’t as likely to lead to criminal charges if it’s reported properly. When negligent behavior is covered up, that’s when it becomes more likely that charges will be pressed.


Consider the case in Hawaii involving two men who ran one of the sewage treatment plants. Instead of retreating or hauling away certain sludge from the plant, the waste was deposited into the ocean. They were both found guilty and sentenced to prison. The case bounced around in appeals courts, but the decision was ultimately upheld. In Connecticut, the vice president of a zinc plating company was sentenced to 21 months in jail for tampering with results so that no permit violation was shown.


Wastewater treatment was once considered a risk reduction process for human health, shifted to a risk reduction process for the environment, and has now become a process of resource recovery and revenue generation. We can’t afford to throw water away by dumping it into the ocean untreated. Not only is it bad for the environment, but water needs to be treated as a sustainable resource, not something that is used once and thrown away. Similarly, wastes should not be carelessly dumped into our water sources.


It’s your responsibility as a business or municipality to be aware of laws and permits regarding industrial wastewater liability and properly dispose of wastes. Take care of your wastes and the environment!