Company to pay settlement for acid spill in North River

Franklin County
North River dead Fish

Thousands of fish were killed in the North River as the result of a toxic spill in Colrain.

BOSTON (WWLP) – 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.

Announcement was made jointly Tuesday by the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

According to court documents, a tank leaked between approximately 53 and 60 gallons of concentrated sulfuric acid out of an outdoor above-ground storage tank at Barnhardt’s Colrain facility directly onto the ground and into the North River on Sept.1, 2019.

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.

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.”

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.  

Lewis Barnhardt, President and COO of Barnhardt Manufacturing Company provided this statement to 22News regarding the EPA/AG’s release:

“Since the accident, Barnhardt Manufacturing Company has worked with the MassDEP and the EPA to mitigate the impact and make improvements to the site. We are a fourth-generation family company based in Charlotte, NC that has taken seriously our responsibilities and have acted to address problems identified at the Colrain site. We have hired experts to do inspections, reviews and maintenance. We also have made improvements to the wastewater treatment facility that also serves 20 households in town.

At the time of the accident, the tank was surrounded by a concrete containment structure. A small drip – at a drip rate of approximately once every 5 minutes –  was observed around supply piping on the side of the tank in late August, 2019. The drip was believed to be from a connection or seal and was being entirely held within the concrete containment area. The company had previously decided to replace the tank and not allow it to take any more materials. Later, and before the September 1, 2019 event, the company decided to remove the tank entirely. When the event was discovered, the tank was promptly drained, taken out of use, dismantled, and removed.

We have a long track record of commitment to western Massachusetts, where many of our employees have worked for generations at our site before we owned it and whom we regard as family. As a company, we have strongly supported the community over many years through annual grants to schools and nonprofits, sponsoring a local Little League team, and providing strong multi-year support for supplying food to the elderly through the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. 

That commitment led us to discover a need in the town for improvements to storm-related infrastructure. We offered as part of this settlement $300,000 to build better resilience to storms through a culvert replacement project that should help address the effects of climate change for years to come. This continues our long tradition of civic support for Colrain dating back to our joining the community in 2007. We appreciate the Town of Colrain’s partnership on completing this significant and necessary culvert replacement.” 

Lewis Barnhardt, President and COO of Barnhardt Manufacturing Company

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. 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.

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