Concerns about illegal dumping of substances into the city's sewer system appear to be part of a federal investigation of a Lawrence-based fertilizer company.
Ray Sawyer, the general manager of MagnaGro International - the Lawrence company where investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency served a federal search warrant on Wednesday - said Friday that he does discharge some material from his warehouse operations into the city's sewer system via the toilet in the building at 600 E. 23rd Street. But he said he doesn't think it is illegal, and is confident it is not harmful.
"If Susie Homemaker washes a load of dishes, she's putting more waste into the system than we are," Sawyer said.
Sawyer said he thinks the whole investigation has been spurred by a disgruntled former employee who complained to the EPA.
"I think it all is a revenge thing," Sawyer said.
The federal search warrant in the case has been sealed, and the EPA - which was assisted in serving the warrant by the FBI - has released no details about what they were seeking.
But Sawyer admits that investigators found a scene on Wednesday that may have looked odd to some. The toilet in the warehouse building had a hose in it that ran from a holding basin. The holding basin contained dirty water left over from crews washing down the floor and equipment. Sawyer said he's sure the water had fertilizer residue in it, but it didn't have harsh chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides because his company doesn't use them.
Sawyer, though, does concede that in the late 1990s he dumped about 13,000 gallons of humic acid into the city's sewer system. Humic acid is a byproduct of one of his fertilizer products. He usually spreads the byproduct on farm fields, but that year it was too rainy to do so. He said the city discovered he'd dumped the material into the system after one of the city's sewer ponds turned black. Sawyer said the city told him to not dump the product again, and he agreed to halt the practice. But Sawyer said he also made the city aware of his practice of dumping the wash water down the toilet, and was not told to stop that practice.
City officials declined to confirm that version of the story. They said they were not commenting on the matter because of the ongoing nature of the investigation.
MagnaGro - which has been in business since 1990 and has about five employees - is a fertilizer blending company. That means it takes already-produced fertilizers and mixes them together to create specific formulations for different types of crops.
Sawyer also addressed rumors that are circulating in the community that the warrant involved drug-related matters, such as supplying marijuana growers with high-grade fertilizer.
Sawyer said his company does not knowingly sell to anyone involved in the drug business. He said the one time his company found out about a customer who was using the fertilizer for marijuana, it stopped all sales and took the appropriate legal steps.
Sawyer said the company primarily sells to large farms of 3,000 acres or more that use the fertilizer for a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans and vegetables.
Sawyer said he plans to keep the business going during the investigation. The city, however, has shut off the water and sewer service to the warehouse.