Changing landscape: Environmental issues for food firms

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Environmental issues play a big role in the food industry
Environmental issues play a big role in the food industry
General Mills has become the latest in a line of companies in the food industry to fall foul of past environmental actions.

A look back through our archives sees that DuPont, Dr Pepper, Post Holdings and Ralcorp Holdings, Kraft Foods and Dow Chemical Company have all had issues to address.

General Mills is working to undo the impact of poor waste disposal more than 50 years ago at an R&D center in Minneapolis as an investigation is launched, as our sister site reported last week​.

Between 1940-1960 the firm disposed of its cleaning solvents – trichloroethylene (TCE) – “in a manner customary for the times”, it said, via soil absorption pits on site.

Long-term exposure to TCE has been associated with liver, kidney and blood cancers but health officials are more concerned about the short-term effects of vapor inhalation such as immune system weakness.

But the firm is far from alone.

DuPont and PFOA

DuPont, which used a chemical to make oil and grease-repellent coatings for things such as packaging, was at the centre of findings last year.

C8-P or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was emitted into the air and water supply by DuPont’s West Virginia site from the 1950’s until a few years ago, said a group of independent scientists when publishing its final list of ‘probable links’.

The C8 science panel established probable links with high cholesterol, kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension/preeclampsia and ulcerative colitis and PFOA exposure.

DuPont agreed to phase out its manufacture, purchase and use by 2015​.

The group of public health scientists was created after a class action settlement in 2005 by lawyers from the community and DuPont, to evaluate whether there is a probable link between C8 exposure and any human disease.

Wastewater treatment plant

Our sister site reported​ on Dr Pepper’s Viper wastewater treatment plant in Houston spewing foam.

The firm said it is battling to fix issues at the plant which started running in March.

City of Houston authorities are aware of the problem and are pressing the firm to resolve the odor and the overflowing foam issues.

Clean Air Act violations

Post Holdings and Ralcorp Holdings paid $2m for air pollution failures at a cereal plant production facility in Modesto, California in September.

Violations of the Clean Air Act include $635,000 for failing to install air pollution controls and $1.4m that the company has already spent on equipment necessary to reduce emissions.

The $1.4m was spent in 2012 on the installation and operation of equipment that captures and controls emissions, reducing VOCs from the facility’s operations line by 95%.

Post said in April that it would close the Modesto facility in 2014​.

Cast your mind back two years and we come across Kraft Foods paying $8.1m to settle a class action lawsuit over air and groundwater pollution at an Attica, Indiana facility caused by the site’s former owner.

Kraft agreed to take on responsibility for the contamination by paying to clean up the site, deal with groundwater contamination and install mitigation units in affected homes.

However, the firm denied liability for the air and water pollution​ as it did not own the facility when the chemicals were being used.

If we go back to 2008, we see Dow Chemical Company was fined by the EPA​ for violating reporting requirements at its production plant in Gales Ferry, Connecticut that may have resulted in excess emissions.

The $330,112 fine was due to the firm failing to keep records of equipment inspections and monitoring results including records of thermal oxidizer temperatures.

EPA kraft paper mills rule

It is not all about past actions though, for example, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revising part of the Clean Air Act for kraft paper mills, possibly adopting new limits. 

The EPA published revisions to the act New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for kraft pulp mills in the Federal Register with a comment period ending in July this year.

EPA proposed changes to the NSPS that apply to affected emission sources at kraft pulp mills for which construction, modification or reconstruction commences on or after 23 May.

Current NSPS regulate particulate matter (PM) and total reduced sulfur (TRS) from pulp mills. EPA proposed revising the PM standard to make it identical with the pulp mill PM standard applicable to hazardous air pollutants but retaining the current TRS standard.

The final rule is expected in Q1 2014 and then we will see who, if anyone, will be affected.

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