Environmental group sues Fleishmann’s, says vinegar company is still polluting the Jones Falls
After a 2021 fish kill that resulted in hundreds of dead fish, illegal chemical releases from the facility continue, Blue Water Baltimore says in a federal complaint
Above: Alice Volpitta holds a dead eel found downstream from the Fleischmann’s plant on September 12, 2021. (Blue Water Baltimore)
For Blue Water Baltimore, a September 2021 fish kill was the first indication of pollution discharges from the Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company into the Jones Falls stream.
The group reported that a second fish kill occurred in October 2022 near the facility, located at 1900 Brand Avenue in Baltimore.
But even though these incidents triggered stepped-up state inspections, the environmental watchdog group alleges in a federal lawsuit filed today that pollution has continued to flow from the facility into this tributary of the Baltimore harbor and the Patapsco River.
“Blue Water Baltimore has since documented ongoing acid discharges flowing through cracks and fissures in the concrete walls of the facility directly into the Jones Falls, a violation of federal and state laws,” the group said in a news release.
Alice Volpitta, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper with Blue Water, said the group was taking legal action “on behalf of our members so that we can protect and restore the Jones Falls stream.”
“Fleischmann’s must stop these unpermitted discharges immediately,” Volpitta said.
Also commenting today was Angela Haren, senior attorney at Chesapeake Legal Alliance, which filed the suit on Blue Water Baltimore’s behalf.
“These pollution discharges are clear violations of the Clean Water Act, and we are exercising our legal right to hold Fleischmann’s and [its corporate parent] Kerry Inc. accountable,” Haren said.
Fleischmann’s is the world’s largest producer of commercial vinegar and operates seven manufacturing plants.
In 2018, the California company was acquired by Kerry Group, an Ireland-based food and flavor products conglomerate.
The Brew has not received a response to an email to Kerry seeking comment.
UPDATE: After publication, a company spokeswoman sent this response:
Fleischmann’s Vinegar Company takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and has been working closely with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the City of Baltimore to ensure its site in Baltimore complies with the Clean Water Act.
The company is committed to meeting all of its environmental compliance obligations and will continue to work closely with local authorities and the citizen group to reach a positive resolution.
The suit says that since September 2021, the company has been discharging polluted water in violation of its environmental permit, including from places beyond its main pipe.
Among the allegations:
• The company routinely discharge effluent into the Jones Falls from an unpermitted metal pipe. The most recent of these discharges, documented in March 2023, exceeded permit level for chlorine.
Other effluent, discharged in 2022 and 2023, contained ammonia, nitrogen, chloride, fluoride, nitrate and other pollutants.
• At least half-a-dozen discharges ftrom the facility’s cracked wall and foundation were documented, including one as recently as last month.
Among the pollutants in the effluent flowing from them: low pH levels, acetic acid, copper, iron, lead, arsenic, selenium, ammonia, nitrogen, phosphate, phosphorus and butyric acid.
• The company discharged unauthorized pollutants into the Jones Falls via a stormwater outfall on at least 13 occasions.
• Since September 2018, the facility exceeded effluent limits at least 12 times for pollutants including pH, temperature difference, total residual chlorine and dissolved oxygen.
According to the complaint, fluctuating pH or sustained high pH physiologically stresses many stream species and can result in decreased reproduction, decreased growth, disease or death. This can ultimately lead to reduced biological diversity.
“Even small changes in pH can shift community composition in streams. This is because pH alters the chemical state of many pollutants (e.g., copper, ammonia), changing their solubility, transport and bioavailability,” the lawsuit says.
“This can increase exposure to and toxicity of metals and nutrients to aquatic plants and animals.”
“Distressed fish were bleeding from their gills. Many fish had a whitish opaque film on their eyes and their bodies” – Blue Water Baltimore lawsuit.
Included in the 24-page complaint are descriptions of the scenes in 2021 and 2021 when Blue Water Baltimore responded to citizen complaints.
In both cases, there were dead fish downstream and a strong odor.
“BWB arrived at the location of the reported fish kill and noted that every fish in the stream appeared to be dead or dying,” the complaint said, referring to the September 2021 fish kill.
“BWB documented approximately 1,000 dead fish in the Jones Falls stream from the area directly adjacent to the facility to an area 3,500 feet downstream of this location.
“Distressed fish were bleeding from their gills. Many fish had a whitish opaque film on their eyes and their bodies.
“Individual fish species documented in this fish kill included American Eel, Crayfish, Northern Suckers, Green Sunfish, Blacknosed Dace and Bluegills.
“The dead American Eel in the area appeared to have some type of chemical burn on its skin, and pieces of its skin were sloughed off and laying in the water nearby.”
Previous BREW Coverage:
• EXCLUSIVE: Fish kill, reported in Jones Falls, linked to vinegar plant (9/14/21)
• Source of Jones Falls fish kill: Dechlorination tanks left unfilled at vinegar plant (9/27/21)
• Fleischmann’s Vinegar continues to discharge acidic wastewater into the Jones Falls (12/23/21)