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Equipment malfunctions at Hormel Foods' plant in Austin, Minn., this month caused thousands of gallons of storm water laced with detritus — including 50 gallons of concentrated blood and grease — to leak into the city's sewer system.

It occurred at such a large volume the debris overwhelmed the city's system for several days.

City officials said they found a "strong waste discharge" in the public wastewater system and reached out to Hormel the week of March 4. The company discovered it was coming from faulty equipment at its pork processing plant. To give the city's wastewater plant time to process the extraneous matter, Hormel and the nearby Quality Pork Processors plant slowed production from March 9-11.

Hormel reported another, smaller leak to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on March 21 after it discovered 50 gallons of concentrated swine blood and 20,000 gallons of diluted materials mixed with stormwater heading toward the Cedar River. An MPCA report faulted a pipe leak leading to a storm line.

Stephen Mikkelson, a spokesman with the MPCA, said the company reported that the animal blood in the March 21 incident did not affect the Cedar River. Cleanup focused on an onsite reservoir pond.

"When something like this happens, it's up to the company or the regulated party [to report]," Mikkelson said. "[Hormel] reported it right away and activated their emergency response plans and immediately recovered and cleaned up the spill."

Austin officials said the March 21 discharge didn't cause further wastewater issues.

"Wastewater treatment plant processes have rebounded, as strength and flow are back to normal levels," Austin City Engineer Steven Lang said in an email.

In a statement to the Star Tribune, Hormel said its Austin plant, as well as the adjacent Quality Pork Processors (QPP) slaughterhouse that supplies pork to Hormel, was operating normally by the end of last week.

"We can confirm that we voluntarily adjusted operation schedules, including working with QPP to shift production on March 11 to help alleviate the strain on the city's wastewater management facility," the company said in a statement.

Austin has plans to replace its decades-old wastewater plant. The city in 2023 received $14.5 million in state bonding for a new facility, which will likely cost more than $100 million to build over the next few years.

According to state law, anyone discharging more than 5 gallons of a substance into the environment that could pollute water must report the leak to the MPCA.