The Iowa attorney general’s office on Friday announced a lawsuit against the state city of Sioux City over allegations the city manipulated the results of sewage tests for several years, proposing a penalty system that could fine the city in the millions of dollars.
From at least 2012 to 2015, plant workers reportedly increased the amount of chlorine they put in the water to kill bacteria on the days they tested E.coli to mislead the Natural Resources Department of Iowa on plant efficiency.
A typical day saw about 2.5 gallons of chlorine per hour put into the water, while on test days that amount reached 120 gallons per hour, according to the Register of Monks.
The lawsuit alleges that during the period, the plant insufficiently sanitized the water that passed through the facility in the Missouri River, potentially endangering people and wildlife who came into contact with the water.
The Iowa attorney general’s office said in the statement that the lawsuit was aimed at preventing the plant from continuing to violate water safety rules. The lawsuit also proposes a fine of up to $ 5,000 per day for each day the facility violated standards, which over several years could run into millions of dollars.
The city continues to violate permit limits for ammonia and chlorine, according to the lawsuit. Town attorney Guy Cook disputed this claim and said people and wildlife had never been in danger from the sewage. All past issues with the plant were caused by “the dishonest conduct of two former employees,” and no other city official was aware of this conduct, he said.
“The city has since taken significant steps and… spent significant amounts of money to properly operate the wastewater treatment facility,” Cook said.
Former Sioux City wastewater treatment plant supervisor Jay Niday was sentenced last year to three months in prison and fined $ 6,000 after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tampering with or providing inaccurate information. Former factory shift supervisor Patrick Schwarte was sentenced in late 2020 to two years probation and a fine of $ 5,000 on the same two counts.
The lawsuit says that at the same time that plant workers were using the program, the city was touting the efficiency of its wastewater treatment system in an effort to increase the capacity of the facility and recruit more ‘companies that would have pushed more polluted water into the already overloaded plant.
“Cheating on required environmental tests has given the city an unfair advantage in this competition to attract business and industry among other municipalities,” the lawsuit said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.