At a special town meeting held on Feb. 3, Clinton voters passed a resolution accepting a $250,000 settlement from Unilever to close the town’s septic lagoons and enhance its shellfish operations, farm share, and education program. The motion passed unanimously, with 64 votes in favor.
In 2013, Unilever pleaded guilty in federal court to two felony violations of the Clean Water Act. The company acknowledged knowingly violating the law, or allowing the law to be violated, by illegally discharging industrial waste from its now-closed Clinton factory and failing to report the discharge in a timely manner.
According to state and federal environmental officials, operators at the facility had used a hose to discharge the contents of a 4,500 gallon vacuum filter filtrate tank directly to a storm drain pipe leading to Clinton’s Hayden Creek.
Though the company initially characterized the violation as an isolated incident (speculating that it may have been the work of vandals), subsequent investigations uncovered a pattern of intentionally bypassing the industrial process wastewater treatment system and routinely discharging partially treated wastewater. The federal Environmental Protection Agency determined that top leadership—including Unilever’s plant managers and environmental health and safety managers—were unaware of the bypasses, but knew that the system was not functioning properly.
Unilever, whose local manufacturing facility produced health and beauty aids for more than 100 years, operated in Clinton originally as Pond’s. A merger in 1955 created Chesebrough-Pond’s, followed by the company’s 1987 acquisition by Unilever. In 2012, the plant closed its Clinton operations, where it had manufactured consumer products with household names including Axe, Dove, Suave, and Vaseline.
As part of its plea agreement, the company agreed to pay a $1 million fine and contribute $3.5 million to state and local environmental programs, a portion of which would go to the towns of Madison and Clinton to fund water quality and ecosystem restoration projects in the lower Hammonasset River watershed. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) approved proposed projects for both towns.
More than two-thirds of Clinton’s quarter-million-dollar settlement will be used to close the town’s septic lagoons. The rest—$77,000—will go toward shellfish restoration.
“All of the funds dedicated toward shellfish will be going toward an oyster farm share program,” said Wayne Church, chair of the town’s Shellfish Commission. “It’s a five-year program that has been started to grow out oysters on Clinton oyster beds offered to Clinton residents as a farm share program. We restored Clinton Harbor oysters to the point where a commercial grower is now using the harbor again, and we’re working with a commercial grower to assist with the program.”
Residents will be able to buy a share of the harvest and have oysters available for pickup periodically throughout the season, said Church.
“We are working out the details right now and are in the process of building out a site that will share information at www.clintonshellfish.org ” he said.