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Press Release

Seattle Barrel and Cooperage Company and owner indicted for ten-year water pollution scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Used hidden drain, pump, and repeated lies to regulators to routinely dump highly caustic pollutants into sewer system

Seattle – A federal grand jury in Seattle has returned a 36-count indictment charging Seattle Barrel and Cooperage Company, its owner, LOUIE SANFT, and its plant manager, JOHN SANFT, with a ten-year scheme to illegally dump caustic waste into the King County sewer system, which ultimately empties into Puget Sound.  The company allegedly used a hidden drain and lied to regulators to carry out their illegal dumping.  The defendants are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle on the indictment on January 9, 2020.

“At a time when we are searching for strategies to protect Puget Sound and improve water quality for fish and wildlife, we need companies to do their share – not scheme for ways to pollute in private,” said U. S. Attorney Brian T. Moran.  “I commend the investigators of the Environmental Protection Agency who investigated this assault on our natural resources.”

SEATTLE BARREL’s business involves collecting used industrial and commercial drums and reconditioning and reselling them.  Part of the reconditioning process involves washing the barrels in a highly-corrosive chemical solution.  The caustic solution has a very high pH level.  According to the indictment, since at least 2009, SEATTLE BARREL has operated under a discharge permit that prohibits it from dumping effluent with a pH exceeding 12 to the sewer system.  Effluent above pH 12 will corrode the sewer system and treatment plant, and potentially cause pass-through pollution to the Duwamish Waterway and Puget Sound.

In 2013, King County conducted covert monitoring of SEATTLE BARREL, and discovered the company was illegally dumping effluent with a pH above 12 in violation of its permit.  King County fined the company $55,250, but later agreed to reduce the fine when SEATTLE BARREL installed a pretreatment system for its wastewater.  Beginning in 2016, LOUIE SANFT represented to King County in written monthly certifications that the company had become a “zero discharge” facility and was not discharging any industrial wastewater to the sewer.

In fact, in 2018 and 2019 additional covert monitoring by the EPA inspectors revealed that SEATTLE BARREL was continuing to routinely dump wastewater with a pH above 12 into the sewer system.  EPA agents obtained a warrant to search Seattle Barrel.  Agents then installed real-time monitoring equipment that allowed them to determine when the dumping was taking place. 

Early on the morning of March 8, 2019, the covert monitors indicated SEATTLE BARREL was dumping high-pH material into the sewer.  Agents then executed the warrant and entered the building.  Inside, they discovered a portable pump on the floor near the tank of caustic solution.  They then discovered that the pump was being used to pump solution to a nearby hidden drain that had never been disclosed to King County.  The drain led directly to the sewer system.

“Our nation’s environmental laws are designed to protect our communities and natural resources from hazardous pollutants, said Special Agent in Charge Jeanne Proctor of EPA’s criminal investigation program in Washington. “This indictment demonstrates that companies that intentionally violate those laws will be held responsible for their crimes.”

Defendants LOUIE SANFT, 53, of Seattle is the owner and operator of SEATTLE BARREL.  JOHN SANFT, 51, of Issaquah, WA, is the plant manager.  The two defendants are cousins.  The defendants are charged with criminal conspiracy and 29 counts of violating the Clean Water Act for discharges in 2018 and 2019.  The men and the company are also charged with four counts of submitting false Clean Water Act Certifications.  Each defendant is also charged making false statements to special agents of the EPA.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations.  A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Conspiracy is punishable by up to five years in prison.  Violation of the Clean Water Act is punishable by up to three years in prison per count.   Making a false statement is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The case is being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID).  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson and Special Assistant United States Attorney Karla Perrin, an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency.


Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or

Updated December 18, 2019