Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Fontarome Chemical

— Midwest Environmental Advocates represented Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers (now Milwaukee Riverkeeper) to enforce water laws to protect Milwaukee's rivers and Lake Michigan from toxic chemicals.

Case Summary

Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (“MMSD”) runs a program for large industrial facilities that allows these companies to discharge pretreated wastewater to MMSD’s sewer system. As part of this program, MMSD regulates industrial discharges through permits. These permits determine how much wastewater companies can discharge to MMSD’s system, as well as what kind and how much of certain types of contaminants can be discharged. These permits are extremely important, as MMSD does not have the capability to treat wastewater for the many possible chemicals used by industries. Because MMSD’s facilities are not designed to remove all toxic chemicals, they instead rely on companies to control their discharges and not release toxins to the sewer in the first place.

To enforce the program, MMSD and the company both monitor the wastewater sent to MMSD’s system to ensure that the wastewater discharge is meeting the permit’s requirements. When a company’s discharge does not meet the permit requirements, they receive a “Notice of Non-Compliance”. After accruing several Notices of Non-Compliance, a company is listed as being in “Significant Non-Compliance”.

Fontarome Chemical of St Francis, Wisconsin, is an industrial facility that participates in MMSD’s pretreater program. Fontarome manufactures chemicals that are used in various products, including fragrances and medications.

Public records on file with MMSD show that Fontarome has exceeded its permit limitations almost 500 times for a variety of toxic and cancer-causing substances, including mercury (a known neurotoxin), toluene (known to cause disruptions in human development), ammonia (a fresh water aquatic species toxin), and chloroform (a known carcinogen). These violations have landed Fontarome on MMSD’s Significant Non-Compliance list multiple times. These permit violations are a violation of the Clean Water Act and are actionable offenses under the citizen suit provision of this Act.

On December 19, 2007, Midwest Environmental Advocates sent a Notice of Intent to sue under the Clean Water Act to Fontarome Chemical on behalf of Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers (now Milwaukee Riverkeeper). Fontarome and MMSD’s reaction to this important enforcement effort was less than admirable.  Read our letter to the DNR detailing the problem.