South Salt Lake fertilizer maker charged with illegally dumping chemicals

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cytozyme Laboratories 2700 S 600 W, in South Salt Lake, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

A fertilizer manufacturer and its chief operating officer have been charged with a felony for allegedly discharging toxic pollutants into its South Salt Lake sewer connection in violation of Utah’s Water Quality Act.

On Thursday, Salt Lake County prosecutors filed the charges in state court against Cytozyme Laboratories Inc. Executive David Bitter, a 60-year-old Orem resident, and another person whose role in the company or alleged crime was not specified.

Since 2013, Cytozyme has operated out of headquarters at 2700 South and 600 West, producing fertilizers used largely by growers outside the United States, according to the charges. Last April, Cytozyme was acquired by Verdesian Life Sciences

Although Cytozyme purported to be a “zero discharge” facility and claimed as much in a filing with the local wastewater treatment plant, its employees discharged wastewater into the sewer on a near-daily basis, despite the presence of a sign over a sink warning that dumping corrosive pollutants down the drain is a crime, the charges allege.

A former employee who tested wastewater in 2018 found it exceeded local limits for corrosive pollutants by a factor of 10 to 20, the charges state. This information was allegedly reported to Bitter, but “there was not much reaction.” Later the company installed a pipeline connecting a sump with the sewer at Bitter’s direction in defiance of industry standards, according to the charges.

In 2020, investigators set up samplers on South Salt Lake’s main sewer upstream and downstream of Cytozyme. On March 11, 2020, testing indicated elevated levels of zinc coming from Cytozyme. The next day, the facility’s grease traps became clogged, causing effluent to surge up through maintenance hole covers in the Cytozyme parking lot and into the city’s stormwater drains.

Sampling of the puddles found levels of copper, zinc and molybdenum that exceeded allowable limits, according to the charging document. Levels of pH were as low as 3.2, an indication of extreme acidity.

A voicemail left at the Cytozyme headquarters was not returned Wednesday.