The soup production and canning facility operated by Campbell Soup Supply Co. in Napoleon, Ohio, produces many of the soups, juices, and canned goods that have long been staples of pantries and cupboards throughout the country. Such products have helped turn Campbell’s into a food manufacturing behemoth, with over $9.4 billion in sales in 2023 alone. But the full picture is not so wholesome: public records secured and reviewed by NELC staff reveal an obsolete waste treatment facility that routinely discharges excessive amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen, E. coli bacteria, oil and grease, carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (CBOD), total suspended solids, and low-oxygen wastewater.

This excessive pollution ends up in the Maumee River, which flows into the Western Basin of Lake Erie and is beloved and heavily used by boaters, hikers, fishermen, and conservationists. The phosphorus in Campbell’s wastewater contributes to eutrophication in both the Maumee and Lake Erie. Each summer, excessive phosphorus levels cause western Lake Erie to experience massive algal blooms containing harmful cyanobacteria. These algal blooms “eat up” available oxygen in the water and lead to conditions inimical to aquatic life. They also pose significant health risks to humans, pets, and other animals.

In July 2023, NELC sent Campbell Soup Supply Co. a 60-day notice of intent to sue on behalf of the non-profit groups Environment Ohio and Lake Erie Waterkeeper. The notice letter, served in accordance with the Clean Water Act, identifies the facility’s longstanding compliance failures, and represents the first step in a legal process intended to restore and protect the long-term health of both the Maumee River and the greater Lake Erie watershed.

In March 2024, NELC filed our lawsuit on behalf of Environment Ohio and Lake Erie Waterkeeper. The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also filed its own lawsuit on the same day. The environmental groups have been working alongside the federal agencies and expect the two suits to be consolidated into a single case. Negotiation with Campbell Soup, which began last July, are expected to continue as the processed food giant cooperates towards the goal of reaching a court-enforced settlement.