The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has slapped a $9,600 fine on Norpac Foods, Inc. for breaching wastewater discharging requirements at its food processing facility in Stayton, the regulator said in a statement.

The company, which engages in supplies of frozen vegetables, precooked pasta, vegetable blends and soup blends to the foodservice industry, has a permit from DEQ allowing it to discharge industrial wastewater to agricultural fields located close to the plant. The land absorbs the water and secondary products derived from Norpac Foods' manufacturing process disintegrate to create fertile soil.

In mid-November, inspectors at the department acted in response to a complaint concerning one of the fields used by Norpac Foods for discharging wastewater. They found that pools of wastewater were flowing off the field, reaching a roadside ditch near Shelburn Drive. The roadside ditch is linked to the North Santiam River and wastewater flowing into the river can significantly threaten water species, the department noted. In addition, industrial wastewater congregating for a long time or forming pools or ponds in irrigation fields creates offensive odors and can cause groundwater problems.

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DEQ explained that due to the company's responsibility for "land applying" under the Oregon state law at levels intended to protect both the public and the environment, workers at the processing plant are obliged to observe the wastewater discharging process. Employees must make sure that the wastewater does not pool or pond and prevent surface runoff as well.

After Norpac Foods was notified about the breaches, the company acted immediately to suspend the irrigation process and erected an earthen dike around the roadside ditch to avoid further wastewater flows and keep it within the field. DEQ has taken these steps into account when deciding on the size of the fine, it added.

Norpac Foods has until Feb. 25 to lodge an appeal against the penalty.

The food processing plant at 930 W. Washington St. in Stayton, Ore., produces frozen and canned vegetable products.

Norpac claims to run its processing units in a way that reduces the environmental impact of their operations. The company has lowered the use of fresh water on the back of increased use of recycled water. It has also reduced solid waste generation to landfills, while trying to use more solid waste for recycling and composting, and is investing in new packaging technologies to limit source materials and enhance its shipping logistics capabilities. Norpac also monitors its environmental performance each year, the company says on its website.