In late July 2007, a New Jersey grand jury indicted Seymour Berkowitz and Berkowitz Fats Company, Inc., doing business as American Rendering Corporation and Harry Berkowitz Industries, Inc., on one count of violating the state Water Pollution Control Act and three counts of violating the state Air Pollution Control Act, all third- degree crimes. The indictment followed an order by a New Jersey Superior Court judge in June to shut down the Newark, NJ, rendering plant after the company failed to make court-ordered improvements and operational changes required to bring the plant into compliance with state environmental laws.
The indictment and shut down orders came after the attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit in May charging the rendering plant with being a “persistent polluter.” A judge ordered the rendering facility and its owner to take immediate action to correct certain violations found during DEP inspections, including the rendering of meat in cookers with air pollution control equipment that was disconnected or inoperable, use of grease rather than fuel oil in the facility’s boiler, failure to record and submit required air pollution emission records, and failure to report a fire. According to the lawsuit, the DEP conducted numerous inspections at the facility since 2005 and, as a result, has assessed more than $2 million in pollution-related civil penalties against the rendering company.
The state had also cited the plant as a source of water pollution via run-off and direct discharge containing such contaminants as fat and grease, blood, diesel fuel, and used engine oil. The state also cited the plant for its continuing outdoor storage of uncovered meat waste. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Berkowitz stated he was working to correct the problems that were taking some time because the plant suffered a fire last September that extensively destroyed the roof and electrical system. Berkowitz could not be reached for comment after the indictment and shut down orders.
According to DEP, staff and contract workers, primarily site remediation personnel brought in by DEP’s emergency response team, spent more than a month cleaning up the property, removing 400 cubic yards of decomposing meat material, over 1,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, and 100,000 gallons of oils, liquids, and sludges. The material was landfilled or incinerated, with a small amount of potentially salvageable oil in tanks collected by another renderer. The agency is seeking to recover cleanup costs and the more than $2 million in civil penalties from the defendants.
The indictment charges Berkowitz and his companies with violating the Water Pollution Control Act by purposely, knowingly, or recklessly discharging untreated wastewater – highly contaminated with fat, oil, and grease – directly into the local sewer system in violation of their permit. Wastewater from the plant was not pretreated as required under the permit and was channeled to by-pass the required monitoring point.
The indictment further charges the defendants with three counts of violating the Air Pollution Control Act by purposely or knowingly:
• operating the plant from October 16, 2006, through May 1, 2007, while one of the plant’s required air pollution control units or scrubbers was not working as a result of damage sustained in a fire;
• emitting foul odors into the outdoor air over a two-year period that interfered with the quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods and were strong enough to sicken county and DEP inspectors who visited the site; and
• refusing to admit DEP inspectors to the plant on January 29, 2007.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Third-degree violations of both acts carry a sentence of up to five years in state prison; fines range from $15,000 for violations of the air pollution act to $75,000 for violations of the water pollution act.
Newsline – August 2007 RENDER | back