Pollution levels in wastewater discharged to Columbia River above limits
OLYMPIA – Alcoa has been fined $36,000 for discharging too much aluminum, fluoride and suspended solids to the Columbia River from the company’s Wenatchee Works smelter in Malaga.
The smelter operates under a Clean Water Act permit that regulates the treatment and discharge of wastewater. The water quality permit sets limits on the amount of aluminum, fluoride and suspended solids that may be discharged from the plant.
The company was cited for violations occurring in March and April of this year. The plant exceeded maximum daily limits for aluminum, fluoride and suspended solids, and violated its average discharge limits for suspended solids for the month of April.
Poor housekeeping practices, including improper storage of raw materials and waste, and operator error contributed to the violations. The company was cited previously for similar housekeeping problems that resulted in fluoride and aluminum discharge violations.
The Washington Department of Ecology issues discharge permits under delegation of a federal program known as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit program. The NPDES program was established under the Clean Water Act and regulates the direct discharge of wastewater.
“It’s critically important for Alcoa to protect water quality and carefully manage their discharges to the Columbia River,” said Garin Schrieve, Ecology’s industrial section manager. “Excess solids, fluoride and aluminum can be toxic to fish and degrade their habitat.”
In response to the most recent violations, Alcoa has made changes to improve housekeeping, and installed new pollution controls and monitoring equipment. In addition, the company is pledging to improve communication between its environmental staff and operation departments to help avoid future violations.
“Alcoa is committed to responsible operation and environmental practices. A thorough root cause investigation was conducted and quality assurance programs have been strengthened to prevent future incidents,” said Mark Huber, Alcoa Wenatchee Works plant manager.
The Alcoa Wenatchee Works aluminum smelter began operating in 1952. At full production, the facility is capable of producing approximately 184,000 tons of aluminum each year.