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Lawsuit accuses Walnut food processor of illegal dumping

Walnut food processor could face $500,000 or more in fines

WALNUT – Avanti Foods in Walnut is illegally dumping high concentrations of wastewater into the village’s sewer system and illegally dumped dairy waste on public property, according to a lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General’s office on behalf of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

The suit seeks to fine the longtime food processor at least $500,000.

The IEPA referred the case to the Attorney General’s office for enforcement, AG spokesman Scott Mulford said Wednesday.

Avanti owner Tony Zueger declined to comment.

The suit alleges 10 violations: water pollution, offensive conditions, interference with the publicly owned treatment works, causing, threatening or allowing the creation of a water pollution hazard, discharging without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, open dumping, dumping waste upon public property, conducting unpermited waste disposal operation, disposal of waste at an unauthorized site, and open dumping of waste resulting in litter.

The Attorney General’s office is seeking $50,000 for each violation and $10,000 for each day the violation continues. Those fines are the maximum state statute allows, Mulford said.

In November 2011, an IEPA inspector observed an Avanti Foods tank truck discharging dairy waste from the plant in a field just north of the village, the AG said in a news release Wednesday.

After issuing a violation notice to Avanti, the IEPA inspected its facility at 108 Depot St. in March 2012, and observed dairy residue in and near flood drains and sewer inlets that posed a threat of contamination if the waste materials were to wash into the storm sewer system, the release said.

The lawsuit alleges that Avanti, also known as Walnut Cheese Co., dumped waste on a gravel road owned by Bureau County northwest of the village, on a farm field owned by the county, and at a wildlife center the county owns and operates, Mulford said.

Avanti, which makes Gino’s Pizzas, which are sold in fundraisers, and a variety of cheeses available in stores throughout the region, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

According to its website, the company turns 50,000 pounds of milk into cheese daily.

The IEPA inspects companies when an allegation is made and issues a notice if a violation is found. The copmany then is given an opportunity to respond, spokesman Andrew Mason said.

The agency sometimes refers cases to the Illinois Attorney General for enforcement.

“In general, a company has a chance to respond to the allegation and take corrective actions which can prevent enforcement action,” he said, declining to comment on Avanti specifically.

In June 2011, Avanti voluntarily recalled mozzarella cheese products because they may have contained antibiotic residue. The state Department of Public Health discovered the problem during a routine review of the Walnut cheese plant’s drug-residue screening log, which indicated one load of raw milk was not tested as required.

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