TOWANDA - Growmark FS LLC recently pleaded guilty to a third-degree misdemeanor of illegal dumping of solid waste, which took place on the surface of the grounds of its facility at 100 Packer Ave. in Towanda.

Growmark was then sentenced by Bradford County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Smith to pay a $10,000 fine and to pay an additional $10,000 to the Attorney General's Office, which will be distributed to "charitable institutions," according to a copy of the sentencing order, which is dated Dec. 21.

Growmark had disposed of herbicide and pesticide waste on the grounds of its facility from 2006 to the beginning of August 2010, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case. Growmark did not have a permit for the disposal.

As part of a plea agreement, the court dismissed a second third-degree misdemeanor charge for illegal dumping that had been lodged against Growmark, according to the sentencing order.

"There was no significant environmental impact" from the illegal disposal of solid waste at Growmark's Towanda facility, said Dan Spadoni, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Spadoni explained that the DEP tested the soil at the site on Aug. 5, 2010 and found numerous pesticides and herbicides used by Growmark in the soil samples.

However, the concentration of pesticides and herbicides in the soil were all below the state's Act 2 thresholds, which trigger the need for a cleanup, he said.

The DEP has not received any reports of anyone getting sick from the depositing of the herbicide and pesticide waste on the grounds of Growmark's Towanda facility, Spadoni said.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health also did not know of anyone getting sick from the disposal of waste at the site.

"To the best of my knowledge, we do not have any reports of people getting sick (from the waste dumped or deposited) at this location," said Holli Senior, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The Attorney General's Office had investigated the case and had filed the two misdemeanor charges against Growmark in Towanda District Court on July 31, 2012.

Seasonal workers for Growmark had said that after applying herbicides and pesticides to farmers' fields, they would rinse the spray tanks three times with water and then spray the waste water on the ground at the rear of Growmark's Towanda facility, near the railroad tracks, according to the criminal complaint that the Attorney General's Office filed against Growmark on July 31, 2012 in Towanda District Court.

A Growmark seasonal worker told a special agent from the Attorney General's Office that the spray rigs had to be triple-rinsed before they could be used to spray another chemical, the complaint states.

Anthony Martinelli, who is the environmental group manager for the DEP's Bureau of Investigations, conducted the DEP's soil sampling at the site. The locations of the soil samples included areas by the railroad tracks where witnesses said dumping had occurred, according to the criminal complaint.

Spadoni described the DEP's soil sampling at Growmark's Towanda site as follows: "Fifteen samples were collected from four locations. The sampling at these locations extended from the surface to a depth of four feet. The samples were analyzed for 121 compounds ... that are associated with both pesticides and herbicides."

Two of the herbicides and pesticides that were found in the soil are glyphosate and metolachlor, according to the criminal complaint.

Glyphosate and metolachlor are active ingredients in some of the products that Growmark applies to farm fields, according to the complaint.

Metolachlor is a slightly toxic chemical, Senior said. Metolachlor is not very acutely toxic to humans, she said. Metolachlor exposure commonly occurs through skin or eye contact, she said. It is not readily absorbed by the skin, she said. Metolachlor has shown limited carcinogenicity (the ability to cause cancer) in animals, she said.

Glyphosate is low in toxicity, Senior said. "Exposure to glyphosate occurs through skin, eyes or through breath. People who breathed in spray mist (of glyphosate) felt irritation in their nose and throat. It can cause increased saliva, burns in the mouth and throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Pets may be at risk if they touch or eat plants that are still wet with (glyphosate) spray. It does not easily pass through skin. Animal studies have not shown evidence that exposure (to glyphosate) is linked to cancer. Studies in people show little evidence of (glyphosate) exposure linked to cancer," Senior said.

Steve Buckalew, who is the chief executive officer for Growmark FS, LCC, has said, "Growmark FS's standard operating procedure is to apply herbicide or pesticide products to fields according to the product labels and then to rinse the sprayer tanks in the field where the product was applied, not at the facility site. That practice is routinely taught and reinforced to all Growmark FS applicators," Buckalew said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.