San Jose ordered to clean-up industrial wastewater program

On March 17, U.S. EPA ordered the city of San Jose, Calif. to strengthen its program that regulates wastewater from industrial facilities, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.

EPA ordered San Jose to correct serious deficiencies in the program that regulates industrial facilities discharging toxic pollutants to the city's sewers and wastewater treatment plant. EPA had ordered San Jose to correct similar violations in 1991. San Jose treats wastewater containing chemicals and toxics from 349 facilities and discharges the wastewater into a waterway that flows into the San Francisco Bay.

"Municipalities such as San Jose must ensure that all industrial dischargers comply with permit limits for toxic pollutants," said Alexis Strauss, the director of the EPA's water division for the Pacific Southwest region. "San Jose's inadequate control over these facilities jeopardizes the sewer system and has led to increases in discharges of toxic pollutants to San Francisco Bay."

EPA discovered the violations during an audit of San Jose's program conducted between January and August 2004. EPA found numerous violations, including errors in industrial permits, inadequate inspections of facilities, and the failure to ensure facilities were not illegally discharging untreated wastewater to the treatment plant. EPA inspected 13 facilities and found significant errors in 12 of the permits, including incorrect pollutant limits.

The EPA order requires San Jose to make major improvements to its pretreatment program over the next two years. San Jose must reissue permits to 170 industrial facilities and establish a more effective program to assess the compliance of each facility with environmental requirements.

The city must comply with the requirements in EPA's order in several stages over the next two years, or face fines of up to $32,500 per day.

Last fall, EPA ordered four of the industries that were inspected -- Son Manufacturing, P.K. Selective Metal Plating, Inc., APTOS Corporation, and Pacific Aerospace, Inc. -- to correct deficiencies in how they treat and monitor toxic pollutants. Three of the facilities have corrected the violations. EPA is working with the last facility -- Pacific Aerospace -- to resolve the remaining violations.

EPA regulates industrial wastewater through the pretreatment program, which ensures the protection of the nation's waters, local treatment plants and municipal workers. Before sending wastewater to the local treatment plant, industries are required to treat toxic chemicals. Treatment plants can malfunction or break down if untreated chemicals are sent through these systems. Local agencies must regulate industrial facilities by issuing permits, conducting inspections, sampling wastewater and reviewing each facility's monitoring data.

EPA's order to San Jose and general information on EPA's pretreatment program are available on EPA's Web site at

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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