The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued by a coalition of conservation and community groups representing millions of people for allowing slaughterhouses to pollute waterways. It was refusing to update national water pollution standards for slaughterhouses.
Thousands of meat and poultry processing plants are still continuing with the outdated pollution-control technology for this EPA decision. Across the US, that has been linked to the contamination of waterways.
In America, the numbers of animals that are processed in more than 5,000 slaughterhouses each year include more than eight billion chickens, 100 million pigs, and 30 million cattle. Around 4,700 of these slaughterhouses use waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, the country’s largest estuary to discharge polluted water.
“[Current] EPA standards are either weak and outdated or nonexistent,” said Sylvia Lam, a lawyer with the not-for-profit Environmental Integrity Project, which filed the lawsuit on Wednesday.
“Cleaner plants have already installed technology to lessen the pollution they send into their local rivers and streams. By not updating these nationwide standards, EPA is rewarding dirty slaughterhouses at the expense of the public.”
As per the Clean Water Act, the EPA is required to set industry-wide standards of pollution for slaughterhouses. Also, it needs to review those standards every year to decide whether any updates are necessary to match the advance pollution-control technology.
In October 2019, the EPA made an announcement that it would not revise the federal water pollution standards for slaughterhouses that were directly discharging processed wastewater into waterways. These standards were last revised by the EPA 15 years ago, and one-third and more of these slaughterhouses follow the guidelines that date back to the 1970s.
The EPA also declined to formulate standards for plants that are polluting waterways indirectly, for example, by sending wastewater to sewage plants before discharging it into rivers or streams.
“EPA’s failure to update pollution standards for slaughterhouses is illegal – and it allows a major industry to continue cutting corners at the expense of communities and the environment,” said Alexis Andiman, a lawyer with Earthjustice.
The wastewater that slaughterhouses discharge is contaminated with blood, oil and grease, and fats containing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and also includes pathogens, among other contaminants. Algae bloom in the waterways that suffocate aquatic life and make rivers and streams bacteria-infected health hazards for the public.
The largest slaughterhouses of America are clustered in rural parts of North Carolina, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania.
The large corporations, with the 100 top companies, owned a large proportion, each of which reporting to earn revenues between $83m and $40bn in 2019.
In an October 2018 report, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) disclosed that the amount of pollution in untreated sewage from a town of 14,000 people was nitrogen over 330lbs discharged by an average slaughterhouse in a day in 2017. In a survey, EIP found, at least 66 of the 98 plants were owned by companies having more than $2bn in annual revenues.
“Some of the world’s largest meat companies are dumping huge volumes of pollution into America’s rivers – pollution that contributes to toxic algae and puts our drinking water at risk. Surely, it is not too much to ask that those who produce our food stop polluting our water,” said John Rumpler from Environment America, one of the plaintiffs.
The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in the court of appeals for the fourth circuit in Richmond on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity, Comite Civico Del Valle, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society and Waterkeeper Alliance.