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PORTLAND, Ore. – Today in federal court, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon ordered Carl Zeiss Vision, Inc. to pay $750,000 in criminal fines for repeatedly discharging untreated wastewater from its lens-manufacturing facility in Clackamas, Oregon to the Kellogg Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate any business, corporation, or individual that bypasses federal environmental laws to seek a competitive advantage or to maximize profits,” said Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “We will continue to aggressively prosecute individuals and corporations whose illegal conduct threatens our region’s natural resources and public health.”
“Our laws are designed to keep communities safe and protect our natural resources by requiring companies to take appropriate steps in managing hazardous chemicals,” said Susan Bodine, Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Companies that fail to comply with the law out of negligence or that seek economic advantage will be held responsible for their actions.”
According to court documents, over a multi-year period, Zeiss knowingly discharged a variety of hazardous substances to the Clackamas County sewer system.
In May 2012, Clackamas Water Environmental Services sent Zeiss a “Non-Residential Questionnaire” or industrial user survey as required by the Clean Water Act. In response, the company falsely described its wastewater as being 200 gallons per day of “green lens cleaner” that required no pretreatment. In reality, Zeiss regularly discharged cadmium-and-lead alloys, acidic lens polish, and potassium hydroxide the company attempted to neutralize with hydrochloric and muriatic acids.
In March and June 2015, EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division installed pH probes in the sewer line coming from the Zeiss manufacturing facility. These probes detected regular unlawful discharges. Investigators recorded unlawful waste discharges (with excessively high or low pH levels) on two-thirds of the days monitored. The government estimates Zeiss avoided $382,000 in proper disposal costs over the period of the offense. By failing to disclose its discharges to Clackamas County, the company operated completely outside pretreatment regulations for years.
Carl Zeiss Vision, Inc. is a subsidiary of the Zeiss International based in Oberkochen, Germany. The company previously pleaded guilty on January 4, 2018 to one count of violating the wastewater pretreatment requirements outlined in Section 1319(c)(1)(A) of the Clean Water Act.
This case was investigated by EPA Criminal Investigations and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan W. Bounds and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla Gebel Perrin.