Cicero Gear Manufacturing Firm Pleads Guilty To Violating Federal Clean Water Act And Agrees To Pay $1.5 Million Fine
CHICAGO — A suburban Cicero gear manufacturing company pleaded guilty today to illegally discharging industrial wastewater into the public sewer system and agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine. The defendant company, BRAD FOOTE GEAR WORKS, INC., began cooperating and taking remedial water treatment measures after federal environmental agents executed a search warrant in February 2011.
Brad Foote Gear Works pleaded guilty to one count of violating the federal Clean Water Act on at least 300 separate days between April 2007 and February 2011. The company, which manufactures precision gear parts for wind turbines, among other things, admitted illegally discharging spent acid wastewater and spent alkaline wastewater, industrial rinse waters, acidic solutions, oil, grease, and metal-bearing wastewater into the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago sewer system without a permit. The wastewater was received at the MWRDGC’s Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in southwest Chicago, where it was treated and discharged into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
The company, located at 1309 South Cicero Ave., in Cicero, entered the guilty plea at its arraignment in U.S. District Court after being charged in September. U.S. District Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr., set sentencing for Feb. 19, 2014.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, which remains subject to court approval, Brad Foote will pay a $1.5 million fine in three $500,000 installments over three years. The fine is based on a mandatory minimum fine of $5,000 per day of violation, for a total of $1.5 million. The company faces a statutory maximum penalty of five years’ probation and a maximum fine of $500,000, twice the gross gain or loss, or $50,000 per violation, whichever is greater. The Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.
The guilty plea was announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Randall Ashe, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement in Chicago.
“To protect public health and our nation’s waterways, it is critical that industries treat their wastes safely and legally before sending them into the public sewers,” Mr. Ashe said. “For years, the defendant knowingly broke the law by allowing untreated industrial waste ― including corrosive liquids ― to be discharged into the public sewer system without a permit. Today’s guilty plea shows that those who engage in such conduct will be prosecuted.”
Following the search of its premises in February 2011, the company began cooperating and implementing protocols to ensure the proper discharge and disposal of industrial wastewater from its facility. As a result, the government did not seek a court-imposed corporate compliance agreement.
According to the plea agreement, Brad Foote’s manufacturing operations included a nital etch line, in which finished parts were dipped into a series of tanks containing caustic cleaners, rinse waters, and nitric acid and hydrochloric acid solutions. The etching acids and caustic cleaners of the nital etch line generally exhibited impermissibly low acidic solutions and impermissibly high alkaline solutions and, over time, those solutions and rinse waters became “spent,” meaning they lost their effectiveness and needed to be replaced.
Beginning in 2004, the company’s then chief executive officer and the manager of the nital etch line created a piping system that allowed untreated wastewater to be discharged into the public sewer system. The discharged wastewater from acid and alkaline tanks generally exhibited a pH of less than 2.0 or greater than 10.5. A second source of illegal discharge involved the company’s “Superfinish” process that used chemicals and abrasive sand-like material to smooth and polish gear parts. As a significant industrial user, Brad Foote was required to have a valid discharge authorization permit to discharge these wastewaters into the sewer system. Brad Foote knew that it did not have, and never applied for, a discharge authorization permit.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Flanagan. The case was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division.