The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has now filed suit against Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company over pollution releases into Baltimore’s Jones Falls, citing hundreds of days of documented violations.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Baltimore City Circuit Court, comes on the heels of a federal complaint against Fleischmann’s filed earlier this week by Blue Water Baltimore, an environmental nonprofit.
MDE charges the company with numerous acidic discharges into the stream, which runs through North Baltimore and discharges into the Inner Harbor near Harbor East.
The suit saying the vinegar factory failed to properly de-chlorinate water used in processing and released twice the amount it is legally permitted to discharge into the waterway.
Many of the discharges came from cracks in the factory’s retaining wall along the Jones Falls and from a stormwater drain the facility was illegally hooked up to, the complaint said.
“We are encouraged by the state’s action and by the state’s, what seems to be, a shift back towards enforcement,” said Angela Haren, a senior attorney for the Chesapeake Legal Alliance, which represents Blue Water Baltimore.
Under the administration of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, MDE was frequently under fire from environmental groups for lax enforcement and giving polluters a pass.
Last year, for instance, Blue Water and a who’s who of other environmental groups filed suit against the state over what they said was a weak industrial stormwater runoff permitting process.
MDE Secretary Serena McIlwain, appointed by Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, and Attorney General Anthony G. Brown were at the top of the statement announcing the lawsuit.
“This case is the result of working in cooperation with Blue Water Baltimore and Chesapeake Legal Alliance,” McIlwain is quoted saying, pledging “renewed focus on enforcement.”
Hope for a Settlement
Both of the lawsuits against Fleishmann’s also name its corporate parent, the Ireland-based food and flavor products conglomerate, Kerry Inc.
A Kerry spokesperson today released a statement on behalf of Fleischmann’s saying the company “takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously.”
The company “has been working closely with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the City of Baltimore to ensure its site in Baltimore complies with the Clean Water Act,” the statement said.
“The company is committed to meeting all of its environmental compliance obligations and will continue to work closely with local authorities and the citizen group to reach a positive resolution,” it continued.
Haren said Blue Water plans to join the state’s case as an intervenor and work with the parties to negotiate “a quick settlement agreement.”
“Our main priority is to make sure this pollution ceases immediately,” Haren said.
A pH level of 4.78
The state inspections were spurred by the September 2021 fish kill downstream of the Fleischmann’s facility that was reported to the state by Blue Water Baltimore.
A second fish kill in October 2022 spurred Blue Water to file its suit against Fleischmann’s, which is located on Brand Avenue off Cold Spring Lane near I-83.
MDE’s complaint cites numerous pollution incidents identified after the the September 2021 fish kill.
Among the incidents, 200 gallons of ethyl alcohol spilled into the Jones Falls and reported by the company on April 1, 2022, and a pH level 4.78 at the facility’s foundation wall, recorded last month.
The facility’s permit allows it to discharge an annual average of less than 295,000 gallons per day. But in 2020, it discharged an average of 643,383 gallons per day, the suit said.
In addition to calling for Fleischmann’s to stop polluting, the suit demands the company “identify and eliminate all interconnections between the facility and a Baltimore City stormwater outfall.”