For 24 of its 91 years in business, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company illegally discharged industrial storm water through a pipe that emptied onto Vine Street and flowed along Cucumber Boulevard. From there, an untold number of gallons — but over 24 years, it was likely in the millions — of untreated water continued to the corner of Relish and Witherington streets before entering the town of Mount Olive’s storm sewer system. The system ultimately discharged the water to Barlow Branch and into the Northeast Cape Fear River.
Now, according to a consent agreement, the EPA has fined the Mt. Olive Pickle Company $131,856 for violating the Clean Water Act over a quarter-century. That’s an average of about $5,500 a year.
It is legal to discharge pollutants into waterways, but only under the terms of a facility’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, or NPDES. According to the EPA, Mt. Olive never sought coverage under an NPDES permit. State regulators discovered the violation during an inspection in 2016; the company subsequently applied for, and received a permit.
Mt. Olive has a history of polluting the Barlow Branch and Northeast Cape Fear, according to state and federal environmental records.
Over the past 12 quarters — the company was in violation of water regulations during nine of them. In some instances, Mt. Olive was discharging water with extremely high levels of chloride, ammonia and/or nitrogen. For example, in the summer of 2015, levels of nitrogen and ammonia reached 2,351 percent above legal limits.
In 2015, NC DEQ fined the company $23,000 for violations of the Clean Water Act.
And between 1993 and 1996, chloride levels in the Northeast Cape Fear downstream of the plant were consistently high because of effluent from the pickle plant. In 1996, state environmental regulators granted the company a state surface water quality variance, allowing it to discharge more chloride into Barlow Branch. It met those variance requirements, while reducing its water and salt usage, according to state records.
Mt. Olive is privately held, so some of its financial details aren’t publicly available. But it is one of the top pickle brands in the U.S., producing about 110 million jars of pickles, relishes and other condiments each year.
The EPA is accepting public comment on the consent agreement. Submit comments in writing to the Regional Hearing Clerk at the US EPA: Atlanta Federal Center, 61 Forsyth St. SW, Atlanta, Ga. 30303; or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available from Mary Mattox, email@example.com.