Guilty pleas in Clean Water Act prosecution

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By Eric Freedman

An Ottawa County, Michigan, electroplating company and two of its top officers have pleaded guilty to violating the federal Clean Water Act by discharging wastewater with excessive amounts of zinc.

After an Environmental Protection Agency investigation, a grand jury charged ASP Plating Co. of Grand Haven and its president, Gary Rowe with a felony and  Vice President Stephen Rowe with a misdemeanor. No employees were charged.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 17, according to court records.

ASP Plating, which was established in 1969, had an industrial pretreatment permit from the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Sewer Authority, according to a press statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids.

“At least between 2015 and 2021, the company routinely violated the permit by dumping zinc in excess of the daily and monthly limitations, by releasing zinc in batches without notice and by bypassing the mandatory pretreatment system entirely,” the statement said.

Under the Clean Water Act, all discharges by industrial users into the country’s waters are illegal unless they are specifically authorized by a permit.

“The sewer authority periodically monitored the company’s discharges, but Gary and Stephen Rowe instructed employees to make sure the monitor was absent before discharging wastewater containing excessive amounts of zinc,” the statement said.

The U.S. Public Health Service’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says, “Zinc is an essential element needed by your body and is commonly found in nutritional supplements. However, taking too much zinc into the body can affect your health.”

Ingesting excessive amounts of zinc has been linked to stomach cramps, anemia, nausea, pancreatic damage and skin damage, according to the agency’s public health statement on zinc.

In a March 2021 illegal discharge incident described in the plea agreements, ASP Plating bypassed the pretreatment system in discharging waste containing zinc and failed to notify the sewer authority.

The U.S. Attorney’s public information officer, Kathy Schuette, said the office could not comment on how the problem came to the attention of federal investigators.

Gary Rowe faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $5,000 to $250,000. Stephen Rowe faces up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500 to $100,000. The company could be placed on probation for one to five years and fined from $5,000 to $500,000.

The defendants also agreed to pay restitution of at least $4,212 under the plea deals. Schuette said the money will reimburse the city of Grand Haven for the cost of cleaning out and investigating the sewer lines.

Lawyers for the defendants didn’t respond to phone and email messages.

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