DOJ, environmental groups sue, allege Campbell Soup polluting Lake Erie

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The U.S. Department of Justice and environmental groups filed two lawsuits against Campbell accusing the soup giant of polluting Lake Erie.

Both lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio hours apart alleging similar complaints that Campbell's manufacturing plant in Napoleon, Ohio, has allowed wastewater and pollutants to flow unchecked into the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie, for years. The two suits are expected to be consolidated into a single case. 

"The toxic algae in Lake Erie is hardly the kind of soup that Ohioans want from a company like Campbell," John Rumpler, the Clean Water Program Director for Environment Ohio, one of the advocacy groups involved in the lawsuit, said in a statement.  

The facility generates millions of gallons of wastewater from its canning operations, which includes heat process washing, blending and filling cans and other containers to produce fruit and vegetable juices, sauces and soups. Bacteria, E. coli and phosphorus were among some of the pollutants found in the waters, the lawsuits allege. 

In a statement to CBS News, Campbell Soup said it had "taken a number of steps to improve our existing wastewater management operations and will continue to take immediate action to address this issue."

"We have capital investments planned to resolve this issue permanently," the company added. "We will continue to work with regulators and other stakeholders to improve our operations and comply with all environmental regulations."

The government's lawsuit, brought on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called for "injunctive relief and civil penalties" for violations of the Clean Water Act. Last May the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the act and curbed the authority of the EPA to regulate wetlands. 

Court documents allege the manufacturing plant had allowed wastewater and pollutants to flow into Maumee River for years, "where they impact the plants and wildlife that depend on those waters, diminish the downstream water quality of Lake Erie, and potentially threaten human health."

Bacteria found in the water can cause respiratory illness, urinary tract infections and other illnesses. The wastewater also adds to dangerous algal blooms on the edges of Lake Erie, court documents claim. 

In their lawsuit, Environment America and Lake Erie Waterkeeper claimed the company dumps 5 million gallons of wastewater each day into the river. Environmental advocacy organizations said they notified the soup giant last July with a notice that they intended to sue. 

"Western Lake Erie is plagued annually by toxic algal blooms, and pollution flowing into the lake from the Maumee River is a primary culprit," said Sandy Bihn, who has served as the Lake Erie Waterkeeper since 2004, in a statement.  "Campbell Soup's persistent violations of its legally mandated limits on discharges of phosphorous and other organic pollutants are only making the problem worse."

    In:
  • Environment
  • Drinking Water
  • Ohio

Cara Tabachnick

Cara Tabachnick is a news editor and journalist at CBSNews.com. Cara began her career on the crime beat at Newsday. She has written for Marie Claire, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. She reports on justice and human rights issues. Contact her at cara.tabachnick@cbsinteractive.com