EPA sued over lack of revised slaughterhouse pollution standards

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Tyler Chalfant | December 26th, 2019

Twelve public interest groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this month for its decision not to update slaughterhouse water pollution standards. An estimated 4,700 out of roughly 5,000 slaughterhouses nationwide discharge polluted water into public waterways, and have been identified by the EPA as the largest industrial source of nitrogen pollution. 

The Clean Water Act requires the EPA to review its standards for slaughterhouses each year to keep up with the latest technological advances, but the standards for discharging polluted water have not been updated for 15 years. These standards don’t require slaughterhouses to send their waste to sewage treatment plants before discharging into waterways, and according to critics haven’t adjusted to pollution-control technologies beyond the mid-1970s.

Many slaughterhouses are operating under even older rules, from 1974 or 1975. Three-quarters of meatpacking plants have been found to violate their pollution limits, though enforcement and penalties are rare. 

One meatpacking plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, that spilled 20,000 gallons of toxic waste into a sewer line running into the Des Moines River back in 2014, has frequently violated Clean Water Act limitations on nitrogen and ammonia pollution. 

The groups currently suing the EPA claim that the federal agency has also violated the law by not updating its standards. An attorney for one of the plaintiffs, the Environmental Integrity Project, Sylvia Lam said that some plants have already installed the technology to lessen their pollution, and by not requiring the same standards industry-wide, the “EPA is rewarding dirty slaughterhouses at the expense of the public.

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