Organic Valley, a dairy cooperative fined more than $26,000 in 2019 for spilling milk, recently installed an 80-foot-long retaining wall to prevent future spills.
The new wall, on the west side of the creamery, stands guard by two storm drains to prevent milk, if spilled, from running into the nearby creek. The creamery also installed a sloped intake bay so that, if equipment fails and milk escapes, it will flow into the creamery’s own drain rather than a storm drain.
In total, Scott Fields, the creamery’s plant manager, said the wall and slope installations cost about $32,000.
“We take this seriously. We’re doing everything we can to prevent anymore accidental spills,” said Fields.
The creamery installed the retaining wall as a response to events last year. In December, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality levied a fine of $26,574 against Organic Valley for spilling milk into a creek, polluting water and potentially suffocating fish and other aquatic life.
Organic Valley called the spills “accidental discharges.”
According to DEQ documents and the creamery’s own account, in January 2019, the creamery discharged 87 gallons of condensed milk and 384 pounds of milk solids into a storm drain that led to a tributary of the South Yamhill River.
Later, in June 2019, milk flowed down the storm drain again — enough to turn the creek white for nearly three-quarters of a mile, according to DEQ.
Harry Esteve, spokesman for DEQ, told the Capital Press this week that the creamery paid the penalty in full and did not appeal the case. Esteve described the creamery’s interactions with DEQ as “professional.”
Organic Valley said the spills were caused by a combination of employee and technical errors. DEQ documents, based on agency investigations, seem to confirm this account.
To prevent employees from making future mistakes, Fields said all employees are now required to take an annual online “storm drain training.” The creamery employs about 40 people and processes about 500,000 pounds of milk daily.
In addition to the wall installation, Fields said the creamery also upgraded equipment in 2019 by removing a door for $1,000, installing a heat exchanger for $15,000 and installing a new conductivity meter.
“There was some speculation on social media last year that we were intentionally dumping milk,” said Fields. “People hear ‘dumping’ and expect the worst. But that was never the case. That’s bad for the environment and the milk is too valuable. We need every drop we can get.”
Despite the negative comments, Fields said he hasn’t noticed a decrease in sales or significant injury to Organic Valley’s reputation, which remains one of the nation’s leading consumer brands.