Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Company denies illegal dumping

September 22, 2007


Illegal dumping draws federal attention

The illegal dumping of substances into the Lawrence sewer system appears to be the focus of a federal investigation by the EPA. Enlarge video

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.


tangential_reasoners_anonymous 10 years, 9 months ago

Marion says: "Any decent respectable pot farmer...."

(Not to single you out or anything, this morning, but) are you now embellishing your arguments with references to "decent, respectable" pot farming?

Forgive me for asking; I am but a "halfwit."

Sigmund 10 years, 9 months ago

You are both way off base. In fact the FBI is involved because of an alleged email suggesting that National Breast Appreciation Day was better than Martin Luther King Day originated from Mr. Sawyer's Sunflower Broadband email account. Be comforted Lawrence in the knowledge that Chad Lawhorn, Haley Harrison and the entire LJW staff have been on top of the "racial pornography" roots of this story from the beginning!

residentinlawrence 10 years, 9 months ago

Sounds as if Mr. Sawyer never does ANYTHING wrong. He really does believe that he does not have to follow the law or rules of any kind. Miss Susie Homemaker doesn't put things in the sewer system to turn water black. So saying no harm done, I don't think so....

RedwoodCoast 10 years, 9 months ago

Man, 13,000 gallons of humic acid. He could have made a killing off of that if the quality had been good and he marketed it correctly. The stuff is great for any plant. I worked in the gardening industry in California for a brief period. You would be surprised at how many fertilizer companies exist solely because of the pot industry. I never saw any Magna-Gro products out there. Also, hydroponics is what people who grow for mere quantity and speed of harvest do. They then have to dump their reservoir full of fertilizer solution either into the gutter or down their drain. What I gathered is that any self-respecting pot farmer grows indoors in soil.

camper 10 years, 9 months ago

Marion. Quit copying other peoples quotes in your responses. We have already read them, and there is no need for you to repeat what has already been said. Keep it short and quick. As few words as possible.

camper 10 years, 9 months ago

Environmental protection is nothing more than a money grab. I have seen companies fined or forced to install equipment, costing millions of dollars, for releasing things into the sewer. Case in point. I work for a company that had to install an oil-water seperator in it's drainage system. Total cost 1.2 million. Total vegetable oil released per year. 1 quart. And I am an environmentalist.

camper 10 years, 9 months ago

To all of those who are young and want to pursue environmental protection. I admire you. But as soon as you graduate and find employment, you will soon see that environmental protection is all about money. Sadly.

oldgoof 10 years, 9 months ago

I hear by word of mouth that there are far more than one or two former employees who have grievances relative to working conditions/OSHA/and EPA issues. I guess we will see.

residentinlawrence 10 years, 9 months ago

You are completely right about more than 1 or 2 employees. Heard working conditions were horrible.

lawrenceman 10 years, 9 months ago

Residenlawrence you have no idea how bad the condidtions really were. Mr. Sawyer is not a man who has been picked upon unfairly. "Disgruntled employee" is a joke. This is a man that put his own daughters to work in a chemical plant that had no eyewash stations, no showers, and no private restrooms that provided emergency chemical washdown stations. Did I say no private washrooms? My mistake, no washdown stations were provided at all. Unless you count a garden hose. "Hey dad, this potassium chloride burns really bad!" Just spray it off with the garden hose honey. Find me anyone that has ever worked for this man who is not "disgruntled" and I would be amazed. Everything goes down the drain. Just washing the floors down?! If he can accurately report where any of his waste has gone in the last ten years then this investigation is a sham. This is a plant that uses Hydrochloric acid, Sulfuric acid, KoH, formayldehyde, and many other products. Trust me, this is not a company that is spill free. Oh, well, I guess it's all just water into the toilet.

residentinlawrence 10 years, 9 months ago

WOW!!! You know this operation pretty darn well....I think the FBI and EPA would be interested in talking to you....and maybe you should talk to them for the sake of all the employees he has probably caused health problems and they don't even know it yet...

smarterthanheis 10 years, 8 months ago

This man is scum, he is grossly unfair to his employees, nothing they do is good enough for him. He thinks he's always right and you're always wrong. He has many, many former employees that can't stand his business practices. Many of them have already talked to the EPA, and the FBI. And there is more to come. Oh and he knows darn good and well what he's doing is illegal, but he thinks if he doesn't get caught, then it's just dandy. He doesn't care about anybody but himself.

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