Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith (R) is in hot water over a water-quality violation at his family’s food-processing plant. Wastewater from Smith Frozen Foods in eastern Oregon overflowed into a creek recently while the plant was processing corn, a violation of state environmental regulations.

This is bad timing for Smith, who has been touting his eco-credentials in what’s shaping up to be a tight race against Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley this November. Smith is the only Republican senator on the West Coast, and his seat is seen as one of the most vulnerable this year.

Smith Frozen Foods is a multimillion-dollar business that processes corn, peas, lima beans, and carrots for companies like Campbell Soup. Gordon Smith ran the company before turning it over to his wife, Sharon Smith, when he entered politics in 1992. According to the local newsweekly Willamette Week, the company has a “long history of wastewater violations.”

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A Smith Frozen Foods employee contacted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on July 29 to report an incident that “resulted in a milky discharge to Pine Creek.” An attorney for Smith Frozen Foods downplayed the situation. “The critical thing is it was self reported within minutes of discovery,” said Tom Lindley. “It was a small quantity that was immediately stopped.”