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Foul Stench, Air & Water Infractions Lead To Large Fine For Colorado Sugar Refinery

sugar beets
Flickr/Creative Commons
A pile of sugar beets after harvest. The Western Sugar Cooperative processes sugar beets into sugar.

A sugar refinery in Fort Morgan, Colorado has been fined $2 million  for violating the state’s environmental laws. Those infractions may be linked to a foul odor that’s been frustrating local residents since last summer.  

The Western Sugar Cooperative plant in Fort Morgan processes sugar beets into sugar. But lately, local residents had been complaining that the smells coming from the plant were anything but sweet. According to local media reports, neighbors of the plant  said the smell was similar to dog feces. "Sometimes, it kind of smells like a dog fart," one resident told 9NEWS in an interview.

Kelly Morgan with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says complaints about the odor were what  prompted their investigation into air quality. What they discovered were infractions to state laws surrounding not only air quality, but water quality and waste disposal too.

Water used to clean the sugar beets is discharged into nearby ponds. Morgan said that wastewater exceeded permitted pollution levels and contained high levels of hydrogen sulfide and fecal coliform, which comes from the fertilizer used to grow the beets.

“Hydrogen sulfide has a very distinctive smell and we believe that contributed to some of the odor issues,” she said.   

According to Morgan, the plant does not have a treatment facility for their wastewater. It seeps directly into the South Platte River. Now the worker-owned cooperative is responsible for investigating the impacts they’ve had to soil and water quality.

The plant was also cited for keeping large piles of waste -- byproducts from the manufacturing process.

Western Sugar has received violations for water pollutants dating back to 2012, according to the CDPHE. The cooperative has worked to try and correct these issue by installing aerators in the ponds of wastewater.  

In a statement, Western Sugar Cooperative said they are pleased to have reached a negotiations with the CDPHE, and that the agreed settlement of $2 million will be in the interest of the public.

“Western Sugar believes that improvements to the facility already made and to be made under the Settlement Agreement will benefit the community, the environment, and Western Sugar's employees and grower-owners.”

The state has ordered the plant to meet several criteria to correct their violations, including converting their coal-fired boilers to run off natural gas.