Cargill fined $80,000

Court: Company penalized for not reporting tampering of water test samples soon enough

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 27, 2014 11:08 am

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Cargill Foods Ltd. was handed an $80,000 fine for not immediately telling provincial regulators an employee tampered with samples of wastewater sent for testing.

A Cargill employee at the plant north of High River admitted to diluting three wastewater samples containing phosphorous in 2012 before they were sent to an external laboratory for analysis. However, when company officials found out they did not report the incident to the provincial department of Environment and sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) within the timeframe required by the Province.

“Reporting was not done immediately, there was a period of five days between the company becoming aware of the incident and ESRD being notified,” Jamie Hanlon, ESRD spokesperson. “When there is some sort of aberration or something that occurs it’s that element that is important to notify us as soon as possible.”

Wastewater from the Cargill plant is treated before being discharged to Frank Lake, southwest of Blackie. Cargill is required to treat its wastewater to limit levels of phosphorus, which can result in depleted oxygen levels in water bodies required to support aquatic life. Between July 2011 and April 2012, a Cargill employee was conducting a study, required by the Province, intended to improve the phosphorus removal process. In February and March of 2012, the employee tampered with three wastewater samples by adding more alum to the samples before they were sent for testing. This made phosphorus levels appear artificially low.

The employee was first confronted on April 11, 2012 and admitted to tampering with samples taken in March of that year. Five days later on April 16, the employee also admitted to tampering with a sample in February and then resigned from the company. On the same day, a manager at the facility reported by phone there were “potential” errors in the company’s March wastewater report and the company followed the phone call with a detailed written report on April 23.

The company is required to report immediately any contraventions of its provincial approvals by phone, followed by a written report within seven days.

Hanlon said the Province has a responsibility to ensure companies are living up to their responsibilities.

“We’re looking to get compliance from companies, from organizations to ensure that they’re maintaining responsibility, but also that they’re looking after the environment and they’re being good stewards of Alberta’s environment,” he said. “When companies fail to maintain their duty, it is our duty to prosecute.”

There is no evidence that any environmental harm occurred as a result of phosphorus being above required levels.

The company is required to limit phosphorus levels in its treated wastewater to a maximum daily average of 40 kg per day, with a daily maximum of 80 kg. Tests done by Cargill’s internal laboratory showed phosphorus levels averaged 40.2 kg per day in February 2012 and 40.7 kg per day in March of 2012.

“We are concerned about any environmental issues and there is, as we indicated, nothing that would seem to show evidence of any sort of environmental harm occurring,” said Hanlon.

Cargill spokesperson Brigitte Burgoyne said the company cooperated with the provincial investigation and is complying with regulations.

“Following the report, Cargill implemented the necessary corrective actions that would have the facility back into compliance with regulations,” she said. “Throughout this process, Cargill cooperated fully with government officials.”

Burgoyne said the employee responsible no longer works for the company and it does not condone their actions.

“Cargill initiated a thorough internal investigation and self-reported their findings to Alberta provincial officials.”


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