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Environmentby Fern Shen1:44 pmMay 21, 20240

Fleischmann’s Vinegar to pay $1.3 million to settle Jones Falls pollution suit

Blue Water Baltimore filed the federal lawsuit last year in the wake of two fishkills discovered in the stream, which empties into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay

Above: Blue Water Baltimore’s Alice Volpitta holds a dead eel found downstream from the Fleischmann’s plant in September 2021. (Blue WaterBaltimore)

A lawsuit filed last year against Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company – after two fishkills were discovered in the Jones Falls – has been settled, with the company agreeing to pay $1.3 million for alleged water pollution violations into the Baltimore waterway, which drains to the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

The agreement, formally entered with the court today, was announced by Blue Water Baltimore and its attorneys at Chesapeake Legal Alliance and Saul Ewing, LLP. The group filed the federal lawsuit alleging ongoing unpermitted acetic acid discharges were fouling the Jones Falls and harming aquatic life in the stream.

Under the terms of the settlement, Fleischmann’s, Kerry Inc., and Kerry Holding Co. agreed to immediately stop all unpermitted discharges at the facility, continue monitoring in the Jones Falls to ensure that no further pollution enters the waterway, and pay more than $1.3 million to resolve the case.

This figure includes $865,000 that the Ireland-based company must pay to fund environmental projects to help restore the Jones Falls, $25,000 in penalties to the U.S. Treasury, and additional funds to reimburse Blue Water Baltimore for fees and costs associated with the case.

“We brought this case to address the pollution that was degrading the local ecosystem and hindering the public’s ability to enjoy and recreate along the Jones Falls,” said Patrick DeArmey, attorney at Chesapeake Legal Alliance.

“We are thrilled that this settlement ensures the pollution will end and puts the bulk of the payments towards projects that directly benefit the Jones Falls and the community.”

In April 2023, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) also sued Fleischmann’s, 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.

Two of the outfall pipes that were discharging highly chlorinated water into the Jones Falls, according to the MDE. (Mark Reutter)

Two of the outfall pipes from the plant, located on Brand Avenue near Cold Spring Lane, that were discharging highly chlorinated water into the Jones Falls, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. (Mark Reutter)

Hundreds of Dead Fish

Blue Water Baltimore became aware of violations in September 2021, while investigating a fish kill in the Jones Falls in the immediate vicinity of the Fleischmann’s facility at 1900 Brand Avenue.

Hundreds of fish, including the endangered American eel, were found dead in the water. Blue Water Baltimore alerted state and federal authorities on Sunday after a citizen reported fish floating in the stream near the Light Rail Station at Cold Spring Lane.

EXCLUSIVE: Fish kill, reported in the Jones Falls, linked to vinegar plant (9/14/21)

Source of Jones Falls fish kill: Dechlorination tanks left unfilled at vinegar plant (9/27/21)

Fleischmann’s Vinegar continues to discharge acidic wastewater into the Jones Falls (12/23/21)

Blue Water Baltimore went on to document unpermitted acidic discharges flowing through cracks in the concrete walls at the facility directly into the Jones Falls.

Testing revealed that the discharge contained acetic acid and pH levels as low as 3.72 – much more acidic than regulatory requirements and the baseline level of the stream, which is around pH 8.0, Blue Water said in a release today.

Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper with Blue Water, responded to the initial scene of the fishkill, wading into the stream amid the dead animals. She told The Brew at the time what she saw “was heartbreaking.”

Today she tipped her hat to citizens who report polluters to the group’s tip line.

“This all began with a single call to our pollution reporting hotline, and it’s proof that one person can make a difference to protect their waterways,” Volpitta said.

The company meanwhile said in December it was ending production at the aged Baltimore facility.

“The company will transfer production from Baltimore to other facilities as part of a broader consolidation of activity within the network,” the Kerry Group’s statement read. “The company is committed to continuing to work with the Baltimore and Maryland community on next steps for the property.”

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