Selenium scam

Johnson Matthey has been fined $3m in a Utah Court for violating the US Clean Water Act at its Salt Lake City precious metals refining facility.


Johnson Matthey (JMI) has been fined $3m in a Utah Court for violating the US Clean Water Act at its Salt Lake City precious metals refining facility.


The Salt Lake City facility began operating in 1982 and refines both gold and silver from a semi-refined product called dore.


As part of the refining process, pollutants such as selenium, and other materials accumulated in the wastewater.


JMI’s wastewater was treated at several steps in the facility to remove selenium, before the company discharged the wastewater to a sewer leading to Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility, where it was subsequently treated and discharged to the Jordan River.


From approximately 1996 to 2002, JMI had difficulty consistently limiting selenium discharges to its permit limit. 


An internal audit conducted by JMI’s auditor in 1999 at the Salt Lake City facility discovered that the facility had exceeded its permit limit for selenium and that employees had screened samples before submitting them to an outside laboratory for analysis. 


The auditor warned the general manager that this violated the terms of JMI’s industrial discharge permit, which required that samples be representative of the reported discharge.


In January 2000, to avoid disclosing true concentrations of the selenium-contaminated wastewater discharged from the facility, employees at the Salt Lake City Facility again screened the samples they reported to Central Valley by analysing in-house the selenium concentrations and then submitting samples with low selenium concentrations to an outside laboratory for eventual reporting to Central Valley.


Of the $3m that the company has been fined, a total of $750,000 will fund various environmental projects in Utah, administered by the congressionally established National Fish and Wildlife Foundation


Projects include wildlife habitat acquisition and restoration projects in the vicinity of Great Salt Lake and its tributaries, and research related to setting selenium standards and limits for the Great Salt Lake and its tributaries.