Some 7,200 gallons of concentrated Mountain Dew syrup created a “huge foaming event” and generated environmental concerns after it went down the drain, literally, at the Pepsi bottling plant on Mason Road in Howell last month.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was at the plant on several occasions after a tank ruptured and sent the syrup through a floor drain and into the plant’s internal sewer system on March 10, said DEQ Senior Environmental Quality Analyst Carla Davidson.
"A spill of this magnitude is highly unusual,” Davidson said, noting the high-sugar syrup can have a toxic effect on aquatic life if it ends up in rivers, lakes or streams.
Most of the spill was contained, and PepsiCo and city officials said proper procedures were used following the spill. Davidson disagreed.
“They could have chosen to isolate,” Davidson said, noting she did not visit the scene until later, so information about the initial chain of events came from reports submitted by PepsiCo and compiled later by DEQ staff. “They have an equalization basin; they knew there was a spill and they could have tried to isolate it, then have that waste water hauled away to protect the integrity of their pretreatment system.
“That’s what normally we would recommend during a spill event like that,” she added.
Davidson said plant management attempted to treat the problem without outside intervention for two days, until the system became overwhelmed. The DEQ received a call to its Pollution Emergency Alert System line just before midnight on March 12, when the syrup, mixed with a large amount of waste water already in the system, created a “a huge foaming event” and sent an estimated 56,000 gallons of sugary sewage flowing out of the system.
Most of the spilled 56,000 gallons flowed into the on-site storm water detention basin, where it was contained, Davidson said, while a small amount went into a ditch behind Key Plastics, where an earthen dam was constructed to contain it.
Pepsi also brought in an environmental contractor, and Davidson said when she visited the following Friday, it was evident the soil had been scraped and the area cleaned up.
“As far as impact to the environment, I think Pepsi is cleaning it up, and we’ll be working with them to prevent discharges like this from happening in the future,” Davidson said. “There was not a release to surface water that we know of, so that’s also a positive.”
“They told us a syrup tank ruptured, so one question we will be asking is ‘Why did this happen?’ We want to make sure the other tanks have good structural integrity, and any maintenance needed is done.”
Howell City Manager Shea Charles said he and other city employees were onsite during the days following the spill and said he believed Pepsi followed protocol for such an event.
“We were out there monitoring; it did not get into the public sewer system,” Charles said, noting any waste that spilled on the ground was contained as it froze when temperatures dropped.”
Jennifer Ryan, a New York-based PepsiCo spokesperson, issued the following statement via email: “Being good stewards of the environment and the communities in which we operate is one of our highest priorities. When this event occurred we immediately took action to mitigate the impact, and we continue to work collaboratively with our neighbors and local agencies to ensure that our clean-up efforts are in compliance with all applicable regulations and meet our company’s high environmental standards.”
Contact reporter Laura Colvi