Chang Farms settles pollution charges

  • The Connecticut River as it heads south past Whately’s River Road as seen from Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield.

For the Gazette
Monday, May 09, 2016

Chang Farms in Whately will settle a federal lawsuit brought against it by the Connecticut River Watershed Council alleging that the bean sprout farm on River Road repeatedly released pollutants into the river over the course of five years.

The suit, filed a year ago in U.S. District Court in Springfield, alleged Chang Farms had violated the terms of its federal Clean Water Act permit by discharging industrial wastewater into the Connecticut River.

The suit alleged the farm had violated the permit 330 times based on its self-reported sampling data, but that the state Department of Environmental Protection had not taken any action.

The wastewater is known to contain nitrogen, phosphorous, bacteria, suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand and other pollutants, according to a federal Environmental Protection Agency report, plus various types of cleaners and sanitizers.

According to the lawsuit, the farm generates wastewater from its operations through crop irrigation, crop washing, and in the process of washing and sanitizing its equipment.

The suit claimed the farm has violated its permit by failing to “operate and maintain all pollution treatment and control facilities and systems necessary for compliance with the Permit’s effluent limits,” regularly “exceeding the allowable effluent limits, violating monitoring and reporting requirements.” The suit claimed it also failed tests designed to measure the acute toxicity of its discharge at least 30 percent of the time over the five years.

Chang Farms denied all the allegations, attributing them to sampling methodology errors, and under the terms of the settlement will not admit any liability.

But the farm will pay a total of $78,000 under the settlement – $36,000 for two environmental projects to the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Town of Sunderland to prevent, reduce or mitigate the effects of the pollution in the affected area, and $39,000 to reimburse part of the Watershed Council’s legal costs. Another $3,000 will be paid to offset the council’s compliance and monitoring costs.

The farm must also follow a plan to bring it into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

“Here, this settlement is fair and reasonable,” read the consent agreement, filed April 29. “This settlement represents a compromise arrived at through vigorous negotiation after months of litigation… Simply put, this settlement will result in a reduction in the amount of polluted industrial wastewater that reaches the Connecticut River.”

This is not the first time the farm, owned by Sidney Chang, has run afoul of federal law. Since 2009, it has been investigated on numerous occasions for federal labor law violations, in one instance being ordered to pay more than $300,000 in back wages.