wave.jpgThe former environmental manager of a bottling plant in American Canyon pleaded guilty in federal court today to a charge of violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by discharging contaminants from the plant into the city’s sewer system.

Dhiren Patel, 43, of Phoenix, was formerly the environmental, health and safety manager of the plant owned by AMCAN Beverages Inc., a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co.

The plant produced 18 million bottles and cans of various beverages in 2007, according to an indictment filed against Patel last year.

Patel pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco to a charge of introducing a contaminant into the southern Napa County city’s sewer system on June 17, 2007.

The wastewater showed a high level of a pollutant measure known as biological oxygen demand, which refers to the amount of dissolved oxygen needed by microorganisms to decompose organic matter. It is used as an indicator of the degree of pollution in wastewater.

Patel will be sentenced by Alsup on June 21 and faces a maximum possible penalty of three years in prison.

Prosecutors said last year that the bottling plant generated 150,000 gallons of wastewater daily in 2007. The effluent was treated first at the plant’s wastewater facility and then sent through sewer lines to the city’s own facility.

The treated wastewater was ultimately discharged into the Napa River, which flowed into San Francisco Bay, the indictment said.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Patel admitted during the plea to directing employees to dilute samples of the plant’s wastewater before submitting them to an outside laboratory for analysis of biological oxygen demand and a second pollutant measure known as total suspended solids.

Patel then prepared monthly reports that contained inaccurate results and submitted the reports to the city, Haag said.

Haag said the investigation began after the city’s treatment facility experienced problems related to both pollutant measures. City officials then determined that AMCAN was discharging water with high concentrations of both indicators and that the city’s measurements of the indicators contradicted those reported by AMCAN.

AMCAN agree to pay American Canyon $7.59 million in 2009 to settle the city’s investigation. The company subsequently cooperated with the federal criminal probe, Haag said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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