Consumer-goods giant Unilever (NYSE:UL) has pleaded guilty to two felony violations of the Clean Water Act, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut announced yesterday.

As part of its plea agreement, the company will pay a $1 million fine. It will also contribute $3.5 million to environmental programs.

Unilever admitted it had illegally discharged industrial wastewater at its former manufacturing site in Clinton, Conn., on Dec. 5, 2008, and that the company failed to report the discharge within the required time frame for doing so.

According to the government, a third-party contract employee reported seeing a hose used to drain the contents of a 4,500-gallon tank of industrial wastewater directly into a storm-drain pipe leading to Hayden Creek, bypassing the company's industrial process wastewater treatment system.

The law requires that any such discharge must be reported to authorities within two hours of being noticed. However, Unilever did not notify the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection until Dec. 10, five days later.

An EPA investigation found that such illegal bypasses had been performed on a weekly basis for perhaps as long as two years before the December 2008 incident.

Unilever said in its announcement yesterday: "The EPA's investigation into the incident established that any bypass of partially treated wastewater that may have occurred at the facility prior to the incident on December 5, 2008 was concealed from and unknown to Unilever's management. Unilever is aware of no evidence that any release resulted in harm to fish, other wildlife or drinking water."

But the EPA did find that "Unilever's management was aware, however, both that the operators were not properly overseeing the wastewater treatment system and that the system was not properly functioning," according to the government.

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