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AS-EPA responds to concerns regarding StarKist wastewater treatment process

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — Local and U.S. officials recently met with the StarKist Samoa CEO Brett Butler looking into concerns raised about recent modifications to StarKist Samoa Co.’s wastewater treatment process and how these modifications relate to the environment, public health, and the water quality in the Fagaloa Bay area. 

Attending the meeting along with American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency (AS-EPA) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) officials were representatives from the American Samoa Legislature; Faimealelei Anthony Allen, Vailuama Steve Leasiolagi, Vaamua Henry Sesepasara and Vaetasi Tu’umolimoli Moliga.

In order to address these concerns, a tour of the StarKist Samoa Co. facility was conducted after a brief overview of the facility operation.  The tour offered insight to not only the fish processing operation, but also modifications that were made to the previous wastewater treatment plant.  Under the old wastewater treatment plant, StarKist Samoa Co. fish waste was processed through an onsite wastewater treatment plant and the remaining “high concentrated nutrient waste” was pumped into a vessel for disposal 6 miles beyond our territorial waters.  This “high concentrated nutrient waste” is commonly known as “sludge.”

The goal of treating the fish waste on site before disposal is to ensure both the environment and public health are protected when it is disposed. The new treatment process StarKist Samoa Co. recently began utilizing is designed to minimize the waste stream by processing most of what was once disposed of at sea into fishmeal. This new process minimizes the total amount of waste that needs to be disposed.

StarKist Samoa Co. has developed a waste treatment system that is designed to handle all of its fish waste on-site while adhering to the discharge limits set by USEPA for what can be disposed of using its outfall line (this outfall line is also shared with the neighboring cannery). This outfall line is monitored under USEPA requirements. This new system has been in the planning stage for more than 10 years. StarKist Samoa Co., under its parent company Dongwon Industries Co., from South Korea, has invested $1.6M of capital into StarKist Samoa Co. to make this new system feasible.  Dongwon and StarKist Samoa Co. feel this improved waste treatment system is an accomplishment toward environmental sustainability through continuous improvement of their carbon footprint. 

Given the new waste treatment system, StarKist Samoa Co. has recently released the contractual services with the F/V Blue Moon. StarKist Samoa Co solely contracted this vessel to deliver fish waste and discharge into the ocean under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) authorized by the Clean Water Act. This method of disposal has been in place for more than 20 years with close monitoring by USEPA in connection with the AS-EPA. 

All fish wastes that are disposed in the ocean, via outfall or sludge boat, are subject to stringent NPDES permitting requirements by USEPA. The NPDES system requires StarKist Samoa to provide a daily log of the waste stream that is being discharged at the Aua outfall. AS-EPA and USEPA receive and review all of the NPDES reports from StarKist Samoa Co. If any anomaly or exceedance is found in the reporting, either AS-EPA or USEPA works with StarKist Samoa Co. to determine the reason and solution for the inappropriate discharge. The waste stream currently being discharged through the Aua outfall is of a measurably better quality than what was once discharged without treatment during the initial days of operation by the canneries. The improvement of the discharge is directly attributable to StarKist Samoa Co. working with AS-EPA and USEPA. 

AS-EPA Director Fanuatele Dr. Toafa Vaiaga’e stated that, “I appreciate the concern from the Representatives regarding StarKist Samoa Co.’s activities in the harbor. It is important for all of the community to remain vigilant in protecting our environment and public health. Fortunately, StarKist Samoa Co. and AS-EPA have been working together, in conjunction with USEPA, to ensure that all aspects of the StarKist Samoa Co. operation are in compliance with local and federal laws and permits. I would like to applaud Mr. Brett Butler, CEO StarKist Samoa Co., along with his management and staff for their continuous efforts in reducing and reusing a majority of the waste.  Over the years, StarKist Samoa Co. continues to increase treatment capacity to treat the waste better.”

Source: AS-EPA media release