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Utah gold and silver refinery sentenced for Clean Water Act violation

Release Date: 12/04/2008
Contact Information: Richard Mylott, 303-312-6654

(Denver, Colo. --- December 2, 2008) Johnson Matthey Inc. (JMI), a Pennsylvania corporation, was sentenced today to a $3 million criminal fine for a felony violation of the Clean Water Act by Judge Dee Benson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, the Justice Department announced. JMI admitted on Sept 3, 2008, to violating the Clean Water Act at its Salt Lake City precious metals refining facility.

The Clean Water Act makes it a crime to knowingly render inaccurate or cause to be rendered inaccurate a reporting method required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act. The former plant manager, Paul Greaves, and the former general manager of the facility, John McKelvie, each pleaded guilty and were sentenced previously for a felony violation of making false statements to government officials.

The case arose out of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation into JMI’s discharge monitoring reports required under the Clean Water Act. The Salt Lake City facility began operating in 1982 and refines both gold and silver from a semi-refined product called dore. As part of the refining process, pollutants such as selenium, and other materials accumulated in the wastewater. JMI’s wastewater was treated at several steps in the facility to remove selenium before JMI discharged the wastewater to a sewer leading to Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, where it was subsequently treated and discharged to the Jordan River.

From approximately 1996 through 2002, JMI had difficulty consistently limiting selenium discharges to its permit limit. An internal audit conducted by JMI’s auditor in 1999 at the Salt Lake City facility discovered that the facility had exceeded its permit limit for selenium and that employees had screened samples before submitting them to an outside laboratory for analysis. The auditor warned the general manager that this violated the terms of JMI’s industrial discharge permit, which required that samples be representative of the reported discharge.

In January 2000, to avoid disclosing true concentrations of the selenium-contaminated wastewater discharged from the facility, employees at the Salt Lake City Facility again screened the samples they reported to Central Valley by analyzing in-house the selenium concentrations and then submitting samples with low selenium concentrations to an outside laboratory for eventual reporting to Central Valley.

The court sentenced JMI to pay a total monetary penalty of $3,000,000 for violating the Clean Water Act. Of this amount, a total of $750,000 will fund various environmental projects in Utah administered by the congressionally established National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Projects include wildlife habitat acquisition and restoration projects in the vicinity of Great Salt Lake and its tributaries, and research related to setting selenium standards and limits for the Great Salt Lake and its tributaries.

“Johnson Matthey knowingly submitted false reports to environmental regulators, and today they are facing the consequences of their actions,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s penalty is a reminder that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the environment and ensuring a level playing field for corporations that follow the law.”

“The public has a right to expect that those who engage in a business enterprise that affects public health and well-being will comply with the laws governing water resources. This sentence helps to reinforce that public right and shows that those businesses who disregard public health and well-being will be held accountable,” U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett L. Tolman said today.

“Accurate information is essential for the federal government and the state of Utah to assure compliance with environmental regulations,” said Lori Hanson, special agent in charge of EPA's Criminal Investigation Division in Denver. “Violators who submit false reports or bogus data undermine our efforts to protect the public and the environment, and they will be vigorously prosecuted.”

The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard Lambert and Jared Bennett and Senior Trial Attorney J. Ronald Sutcliffe of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.