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Steve Brown/Capital Press The Darigold processing plant in Chehalis, Wash., is one 12 owned by the Seattle-based co-op, processes more than 8 billion pounds of milk annually.

A Darigold processing plant in Spokane, Wash., is accused by an environmental group of exceeding pollutant benchmarks in violation of the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit filed by Spokane Riverkeeper claims more than 20 samples of discharged water from the facility — one of 11 owned by Darigold — contained excess levels of zinc, phosphorous, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, oil and grease as well as nitrate and nitrite since 2014.

Spokane Riverkeeper’s complaint alleges Darigold has failed to implement adequate best management practices and stormwater pollution prevention plans at the facility and hasn’t responded to the problem with the right corrective actions.

The complaint is seeking an injunction blocking Darigold from further violating its Clean Water Act permit, as well as civil penalties ranging from about $37,500 to $53,500 per day of violation.

The environmental group has also requested reimbursement of its litigation expenses and two years of access to water quality documents submitted by Darigold to state and federal regulators, once the company’s in compliance with the permit.

In a notice letter sent to Darigold before the lawsuit was filed, Spokane Riverkeeper said the threats to the Spokane River “are severe by any measure” because the waterway currently “does not meet water quality standards for several parameters.”

“Such wastes can enter the environment and remain for long periods of time, contaminating drinking water supplies, public beaches, private lands, and critical habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as expose people to serious health risks,” the letter said. “These risks are especially pronounced in the Spokane River, where there has been long-term and pervasive industrial pollution. Currently, fish caught in the Spokane River are not fit for human consumption due to toxic contamination.”

Sarah Taydas, corporate communications director for Darigold, said the company is “disappointed” that Spokane Riverkeeper filed the complaint because it had been trying to resolve the environmental group’s concerns.

While Darigold just recently received the complaint and is still reviewing it, the company takes environmental compliance seriously and has a good record in Spokane, she said in an email.

Darigold is the marketing and processing subsidiary of the Northwest Dairy Association, a cooperative owned by nearly 500 farms that produce roughly 10 billion pounds of milk a year.

“At Darigold, we pursue sustainable practices because they are the right thing to do. Sustainability is core to our values as a co-op,” Taydas said. “Our goal is to operate in a way that leaves the world and the people we touch in a better state.”

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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