Sulfuric Acid Spill Results in 1.5 Million Penalty

From the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office

Cotton Bleaching Company to Pay Nearly $1.5 Million for Acid Spill That Killed More Than 270,000 Fish in the North River

Company will Compensate Massachusetts for Harms to Natural Resources and Cold Water Fishery; Ensure Safe Operation of Colrain Bleaching Facility
For immediate release:
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
  • Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Baker-Polito Administration announced today that Barnhardt Manufacturing Company, a North-Carolina-based cotton bleaching company, has agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million to settle allegations that it spilled dozens of gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid from its Colrain facility into the North River, killing more than 270,000 fish, including thousands of state-listed rare species.

The state and federal settlements will also require the company to take steps to comply with water pollution, hazard management, and chemical accident prevention laws at their bleaching facility and associated wastewater treatment facility.

“The sulfuric acid spill caused by this company was devastating for the Colrain community and left long-lasting damage to the North River,” AG Healey said. “Today’s settlements will hold Barnhardt accountable for harming this rich ecosystem and will provide significant funding to restore nearby natural resources and fisheries.”

According to the AG’s complaint, on Sept.1, 2019, between approximately 53 and 60 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid sprayed out of an outdoor above-ground storage tank at Barnhardt’s Colrain facility directly onto the ground. The AG’s Office alleges that Barnhardt knew the storage tank had a leak and neglected to repair it. Dozens of gallons of acid allegedly flowed into a nearby brook and down a three mile stretch of the North River, a pristine river and popular recreational fishery that feeds into the Deerfield River. According to the complaint, the acid dissolved nearly everything in its path, killing more than 270,000 fish and damaging more than 14 acres of protected wetland resource areas and over 12 acres of designated habitat of two state-listed rare species—the Longnose Sucker fish and the Ocellated Darner dragonfly. Barnhardt also allegedly discharged wastewater from its facility in excess of permitted limits on numerous occasions, improperly operated and maintained its wastewater treatment facility, and mismanaged hazardous waste oil.

The AG’s Office alleges Barnhardt’s acid spill and facility operations violated numerous Massachusetts environmental laws and regulations, including the state Wetlands Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Waters Act, and Hazardous Waste Management Act, and gave rise to significant damages under the Commonwealth’s Oil and Hazardous Material Release Prevention and Response Act and Inland Fisheries Statute.

EPA’s administrative settlement alleges, among other things, that the company failed to maintain its sulfuric acid tank in violation of the General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act, which requires users of extremely hazardous substances to take steps to prevent and mitigate accidental releases.

Under the terms of the settlement with the AG’s Office, Barnhardt is required to comply with state regulations to protect water quality and natural resources at and around its facility and undertake additional training, planning, and operations to prevent future releases. Barnhardt will also pay up to $500,000 in penalties, including $200,000 to the Commonwealth’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund. Barnhardt will also fund the replacement and/or enhancement of one or more culverts located in the Deerfield River watershed in Colrain, at a cost of $300,000. Additionally, Barnhardt will pay the state more than $360,000 to fund environmental restoration projects in the Colrain area, to compensate for the harm to natural resources and fisheries, and to reimburse the costs of assessing natural resource damages.

EPA’s settlement requires a civil penalty payment of approximately $305,000 to the U.S. Treasury and work to ensure that chemical hazards at the plant are identified and addressed.

“EPA’s case complements the Commonwealth’s by addressing the root cause of the spill,” says EPA Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro. “It’s critical that companies handling hazardous chemicals identify hazards and ensure that their facilities are designed and maintained safely. Carefully following the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention provisions helps prevent releases from occurring in the first place.”

The state settlement was negotiated in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW). EPA brought its administrative case on a separate but parallel track.

“The North River is an important fishery and recreational asset that was severely affected by the release of industrial acid from the Barnhardt facility,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “This appalling situation was entirely preventable, and we trust that the settlement and improvements at the facility will prevent similar events in the future while helping to restore these local fisheries and natural resources.”

“The acid spill in Colrain devastated natural resources in the North River. This settlement will help prevent future spills from happening and compensate the public for the environmental damage that was caused,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “This settlement will also help ensure that Barnhardt complies with its effluent limits and toxicity levels as required under the Clean Water Act regulations.”

“I would like to thank the Deerfield River Chapter of Trout Unlimited, local anglers, and the many fishing guides who serve as our ‘eyes and ears’ on the river and first reported the fish kill that led to this action,” said Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Commissioner (DFG) Ron Amidon. “We are very pleased that the Attorney General’s Office negotiated a settlement that provides $292,000 to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife for fisheries and rare species restoration, and $300,000 to the Town of Colrain for culvert improvements that will further benefit cold water fish and native wildlife. We look forward to working with the local partners on efforts that will benefit trout and other wildlife in the North River and greater Deerfield River watershed.”

This case was handled for Massachusetts by Assistant Attorney General Turner Smith, Deputy Chief of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, with the assistance of Assistant Attorney General Tracy Triplett, along with MassDEP Chief Regional Counsel Christine LeBel and technical staff members Brian Harrington, Matthew Sokop, Daniel Kurpaska, Saadi Motamedi, David Howland, Dave Slowick, Joel Rees, and Dave Foulis; MassDEP’s Natural Resources Damages Program Coordinator Michelle Craddock; DFG General Counsel Jennifer Sulla; and Chief of Regulatory Review Jesse Leddick, Senior Endangered Species Review Biologist Misty-Ann Marold, and Assistant Director of Fisheries Todd Richards, all of the DFG’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.