Barge operator allegedly dumped pollutants into Ohio River at Cairo, IL

Barge operator allegedly dumped pollutants into Ohio River at Cairo, IL

CAIRO, IL (KFVS) - A barge operator in Cairo, Illinois is accused of committing more than 500 violations over seven years for allegedly dumping pollutants into the Ohio River.

A Clean Water Act complaint was filed by James L. Porter, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It was filed against American Commercial Lines, Inc and its wholly-owned subsidiary ACBL Transportation Services, LLC for allegedly violating their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits at their facility in Cairo, Ill.

According to the complaint, ACL discharged sewage and polluted wastewater into the Ohio River from two office septic systems, a marine sanitation device and a barge cleaning operation.

The wastewater allegedly exceeded permit limits for four separate pollutants: biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids, total residual chlorine and fecal coliform.

The two companies are charged with committing at least 554 CWA violations over the span of almost seven years.

Reports submitted by ACL and ACBLTS to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency show that many of the alleged violations were egregious.

The complaint notes more than 50 occasions from 2007 to 2013 when ACL exceeded its daily maximum limit for fecal coliform, or water contaminated by fecal matter, by a factor of nine or more, including at least 16 occasions when the concentration of fecal coliform measured 100 times higher than the permit limit.

During one reporting period in September 2009, the total residual chlorine, a pollutant that can be toxic to fish and other aquatic life even at low concentrations, allegedly registered more than 700 times the permit limit.

American Commercial Lines released the following statement:

"The majority of issues were related to two malfunctioning sanitation units that created discharge that exceeded permit limits.  After discovering the problem, we self-reported it to the EPA and cooperated fully with the agency's investigation.  We have replaced the units with a system that eliminates discharge into the river entirely. ACL is committed to protecting the environment in which we operate. We strive to exceed regulatory requirements and ensure continuous improvement in our environmental performance across all aspects of our business, boat and barge transportation, facilities and manufacturing."

The complaint seeks civil penalties of up to $37,500 per violation day against both ACL and ACBLTS, as provided by statute.

According to the Illinois American Water's Cairo District, the drinking water does meet all EPA requirements.

"We understand the recent news about alleged dumping of pollutants into the Ohio River can be alarming, so we want to reassure our customers that water quality has not been compromised," Operations Superintendent Mike Brown said.

He said at the Cairo Water Treatment Plant, water quality tests are conducted daily for bacteria, cholorine, turbidity and more.

"Our team makes sure that water is constantly monitored during the treatment process by computer-controlled analyzers that continually check and measure the chlorine levels in the water, as well as the clarity of the water, its pH balance, temperature and other critical factors. Then, our operators perform more tests, not just before the water leaves the plant, but also as it travels through the system of water pipes on its way to customers," Sarah Boyd, Cairo District water quality supervisor, said.

The case against ACL and ACBLTS is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nathan D. Stump and Nicholas J. Bierbach, in concert with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

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