WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced a settlement that resolves significant ozone-depletion violations, related to refrigerant leaks, which were brought against Earthgrains.

The consent decree settles violations of Title VI of the Clean Air Act by Earthgrains Baking Companies, Metz Baking Company, Earthgrains Refrigerated Dough Products L.P., and Coopersmith Inc. (collectively Earthgrains). Sara Lee Corporation purchased these companies, which were incorporated into the Sara Lee Bakery Group, during the government's investigation. At the time of the purchase, Earthgrains was the second largest bakery company in the nation.

According to the EPA, the settlement requires Earthgrains to pay a $5.25 million civil penalty for having committed the largest ever corporate-wide violations of stratospheric ozone protection regulations. In addition, Earthgrains must convert all of its industrial process refrigeration appliances to refrigerant systems that do not deplete the ozone layer. EPA estimates that the injunctive relief will cost in excess of $5 million dollars.

The government’s complaint alleges that Earthgrains' large industrial process appliances at 57 of its 67 facilities leaked refrigerants in excess of the 35 percent annualized leak rate permitted by regulation, and that Earthgrains failed to make prompt, proper repairs. More than 300 appliances, several containing 1,000 pounds or more of refrigerant each, were involved in the investigation.

"This case addresses pollution that has a global impact and displays the [Justice] Department's aggressive pursuit of those who commit illegal acts that degrade the ozone layer," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Sansonetti. "This settlement demonstrates our unwavering commitment to hold accountable polluters who gain a competitive advantage when they shirk their responsibility to comply with laws that protect public health."

"Such systematic, corporate-wide violations of the Clean Air Act pose serious threats to both human health and the environment and will not be tolerated," said EPA's John Peter Suarez, the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This settlement is evidence to the fact that such widespread patterns of illegal conduct that degrade the ozone layer will be met with vigorous enforcement by the United States."

Publication date: 08/04/2003