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Man pleads guilty after dumping contaminated wastewater into river: 'You will be held accountable'

A fisherman in Hardin County alerted authorities of the dead fish popping up in the river.

A fisherman in Hardin County alerted authorities of the dead fish popping up in the river.

Photo Credit: iStock

An Ohio businessman showed an egregious disregard for one of the state's natural resources, and now he's set to pay the price.

What's happening?

As reported by The Hill last month, Mark Shepherd of Kenton, Ohio, pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act by "dumping about 7,000 gallons of wastewater containing pollutants and hazardous substances" into the Scioto River, which led to the death of over 40,000 fish. The United States Department of Justice wrote in a news release that Shepherd committed the disdainful action in April 2021.

According to court documents, Shepherd was accused of "negligently" flooding the river with wastewater that contained ammonia. The Hill noted that the pollutants were alleged to have come from two businesses owned by Shepherd, one of which specializes in transporting hazardous substances.

The release stated that the wastewater flowed nearly 20 miles from where Shepherd allegedly dumped it. A fisherman in Hardin County alerted authorities of the dead fish popping up in the river, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources eventually determined that a whopping 43,094 fish were killed by Shepherd's flagrant act. The department estimated the value of the dead fish to be nearly $22,500.

Following his guilty plea, Shepherd's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 12.

"There's a right way and a wrong way to do business — and when your business pollutes Ohio's natural resources, you will be held accountable," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said, per The Hill. "I'm grateful for our many partners who work together to keep our land, water and air clean."

Why is this important?

Originally implemented in 1972, the Clean Water Act is a significant piece of legislation aimed at maintaining and restoring the integrity of the nation's waters. The EPA stated that the CWA "made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained."

Environmental contamination like Shepherd's dumping of hazardous materials can severely affect fish populations. One such case involved a fertilizer spill that resulted in a near-mass killing event of fish across a 60-mile stretch of rivers in Iowa and Missouri. This ecological disaster was caused by an open valve in a storage tank at an agricultural business, leading to the death of nearly 789,000 fish.

Shepherd's violation isn't the only example of disregarding the Clean Water Act. For instance, in Charleston, South Carolina, residents recently threatened to sue the city government after raw sewage seeped into the streets, which they claim is a clear violation of federal law, specifically the CWA. The nonprofit Charleston Waterkeeper accused the city's utility company of failing to prevent these spills, which have been happening since 2015.

These actions are serious breaches of environmental regulations and demonstrate the ongoing challenges in enforcing clean water standards.

What's being done about this?

These incidents highlight the importance of strict regulations and oversight to prevent such instances of significant water pollution. Shepherd is likely facing a hefty fine for his disregard for the environment.

In a similar case, an Oregon man who was arrested for pouring bleach into a hatchery tank that killed 18,000 salmon that would have been released into the wild faced a potential fine of $750 per fish, which amounted to an eye-popping $13 million.

It's crucial for communities and environmental groups to remain vigilant against harmful disposal of hazardous waste and advocate for stronger enforcement to protect our water resources.

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