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Calcium Products fined by state

Iowa DNR alleges illegal pollution into Des Moines River

Calcium Products Inc. was fined $6,700 by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources after the DNR found evidence of discharge from its Fort Dodge location polluting a creek that flows into the Des Moines River.

A May 2019 complaint from a resident downriver led to a DNR investigation that found a discharge originating from a ditch on the company’s Quail Avenue property. The discharge of lignin sulfonate in ditches flowed about 1,000 feet south of the company’s property before entering a tile intake, according to DNR documents.

Samples taken from the site were found to have biological oxygen demand concentrations (BOD5) of 7,200 parts per million. A typical stormwater discharge permit like the one Calcium Products has allows for discharge concentrations of only 25 parts per million.

“That’s an indicator of how the material will break down in water and reduce oxygen available for fish and wildlife,” said Jeremy Klatt, senior environmental specialist for the DNR. “It’s measuring how much oxygen demand the material has.”

The leaking material in question, lignin sulfonate, is a chemical used in the company’s manufacturing process to make a product used to keep dust down on gravel roads. Mike Hogan, CEO of Calcium Products, said that the substance, derived from tree sap, serves as a binding agent for its pellet product.

“We appreciate the DNR for bringing it to our attention,” said Hogan, telling The Messenger that the discharge was caused by faulty equipment. “We’ve got that corrected and mediated.”

Hogan also asserted that the pollution that made it to the river did not have any notable impact on loss of fish or wildlife downstream.

An administrative consent order, signed by the fertilizer company’s CEO in January, says that the fine will settle all litigation regarding alleged environmental violations.

Though this is the first time that a violation and penalty has been issued to Calcium Products, the order notes that similar complaints in 2014 and 2015 were also traced to the same ditch by the road. The DNR notes that the ditch was cleaned up in March 2015, after investigating the second complaint.

Jay Jergens, director of operations for the company, concluded that the lignin sulfonate, when spilled inside the plant, is washed down floor drains which lead to the septic system. The septic system drains to a leach field and ultimately to the road ditch. The road ditch drains to Holiday Creek, which flows into the Des Moines River.

The most recent complaint alleged that Holiday Creek became foamy and discolored on May 14, leaving no visibility of vegetation at the bottom of the creek. The complainant tracked the foam upstream to a tile outfall, where a sample was taken. Photos of the condition and brownish red water samples shared with the DNR verified the claim.

The alleged violation last year led the DNR to to conduct a permit inspection at Calcium Products’ facility several days later, finding that the company had not completed mandatory storm water pollution prevention plans, in addition to leaving the stagnant contaminated water in ditches.

Specifically, the DNR complaint filed in December said that the prevention plan had not been signed, maps showing potential pollutants and flow paths had not been included, a list of releases resulting in hazardous conditions had not been established, employees had not been properly trained and a discharge evaluation had not been completed.

Of the $6,700 fine, $3,000 was asssessed for culpability, $2,500 for the gravity of the violation, and $1,200 for the economic benefit the DNR said Calcium Products received by failing to devote adequate time and resources for compliance with its discharge permit. Iowa code permits the DNR to assess fines of up to $10,000 for similar violations.

Klatt said their permit only allows them to discharge storm water if they comply with its conditions.

“They’ve got to take care of the property and make sure there’s not high levels of discharge,” he said. “It involves them inspecting the property and taking actions where needed.”

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