MONTEREY, Calif. (CN) - The nation's largest water company was fined $389,000 for illegally shipping arsenic-laced sludge to a landfill.
The stipulated judgment was filed April 11 after California-American Water Company and the Monterey County District Attorney reached a settlement.
The fine includes civil penalties, investigative costs and $60,000 to help California's rural district attorneys prosecute environmental crimes.
The terms also place a permanent injunction on Cal-Am to comply with hazardous waste regulations.
The violations involve Cal-Am's improper disposal of sludge containing arsenic. Since 2008, when the allowable limit of arsenic in drinking water was lowered, the water company has removed naturally occurring arsenic from the groundwater it uses at its three Monterey County facilities. The process generates an arsenic-laced sludge that can be hazardous, depending on its concentration.
Cal-Am conducted some initial testing on the sludge for arsenic, but did not consistently test it before shipping it to the local landfill in Marina, prosecutors said in a statement. Eventually, tests revealed that some of the sludge qualified as hazardous waste due to its arsenic level.
District Attorney Dean Flippo credited Cal-Am for taking immediate steps to correct the problem, including hiring new state and local environmental compliance staff and implementing statewide procedures for managing treatment plant residuals such as sludge.
Cal-Am serves about serve about 630,000 people in 50 communities throughout California. Its parent company, American Water, headquartered in Voorhees, N.J., is the largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company in the United States, according to its website. It serves an estimated 14 million people in more than 40 states and parts of Canada, operating as regulated utilities in 16 of those states.