U.S. Senator Demands EPA Action to Reduce Water Pollution from Illinois Hog Slaughterhouse and Industry Nationally

Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate Minority Whip, Sends Letter to EPA Administrator in Reaction to Environmental Integrity Project Report, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses.”

Washington, DC — In response to news stories on an Environmental Integrity Project report “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” U.S. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois yesterday sent a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler demanding federal action to crack down on water pollution nationally from the meat processing industry.

The Chicago Tribune and several other publications published articles on Oct. 11 about the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) report, which used federal and state records to document the fact that 75 percent of the nation’s 98 largest slaughterhouses that discharge directly into waterways violated their water pollution control permits at least once between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018.  More than half of the plants (50 of 98) had five violations over this time period, and a third (32 of 98) had at least 10 violations, with little enforcement and few penalties, according to the EPA records.

The EIP report ranked the JBS Beardstown hog slaughterhouse in western Illinois as the worst in the nation, in terms of nitrogen pollution discharged on an average daily basis in 2017 among all meat processing plants studied.

“I urge EPA to use its full authority to protect public and environmental health by requiring meat-processing plantings, including the JBS plant in Beardstown, Illinois, to use every available method to reduce the pollution they emit in the rivers, lakes, and streams we use for recreation and drinking water,” Senator Durbin wrote to the Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in the letter.  “Illinois communities are counting on it.”

Senator Durbin is asking for tougher EPA standards for water pollution from slaughterhouses nationally; a crackdown on the Beardstown, Illinois, hog slaughterhouse that EIP highlighted in its report; and the installation of best available water pollution control equipment at the plant.

“EPA should revise its outdated 2004 discharge standards to set more stringent water pollution limits that require meat-processing plants to use the best available control technologies and require better monitoring of and reporting by the facilities to ensure they are in compliance,” Durbin wrote to EPA.  “In addition, EPA must work with state authorities to set more restrictive standards for processing plants that discharge into sensitive waterways, like the Illinois River, by setting total maximum daily load limits and better enforcing standards by requiring penalties and reclamation when violations occur.”

EIP’s report, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” with research from Earthjustice, also discovered that 60 of the nation’s largest 98 slaughterhouses release wastewater to rivers, streams, and other waterways that are impaired because of the main pollutants found in slaughterhouse wastewater: bacteria, pathogens, nutrients, and other oxygen-depleting substances.

“This water pollution is really an environmental justice issue, because many of these slaughterhouses are owned by wealthy international companies, and they are contaminating the rivers and drinking water supplies of rural, often lower-income, communities of color,” said Eric Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former Director of Civil Enforcement at EPA.

For Senator Durbin’s letter to Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, visit: https://www.durbin.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/EPA%20Beardstown%20Letter%20signed.pdf

Here is a link to Senator Durbin’s press release on the Environmental Integrity Project slaughterhouse report:
https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-presses-epa-to-limit-harmful-pollution-from-meat-processing-plants-

And here is the press statement that Durbin issued on the EIP report on Oct. 12:
https://www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/durbin-statement-on-jbs-pork-processing-plant-pollution-in-beardstown-

Here is a link to the EIP report itself: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/news/slaughterhouses-violate-water-pollution-permits/

 

TEXT OF LETTER FROM SENATOR DURBIN TO EPA ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER:

“Dear Acting Administrator Wheeler:

I request that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thoroughly review its Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Meat and Poultry Products and set new, stricter standards that are more protective of environmental health and better reflect the best available science and use of existing technologies and practices to limit harmful pollution from meat-processing plants into sensitive waterways.

Recent reports by the Environmental Integrity Project and the Chicago Tribune show that a JBS-owned pork-processing plant in Beardstown, Illinois, released 1,849 pounds of nitrogen a day, on average, into a tributary to the Illinois River.  That is equivalent to the amount of pollution produced from the raw sewage of a city of 79,000 people.  This is particularly concerning as nitrogen pollution is known to damage waterways and kill wildlife by causing excessive algae growth and creating low-oxygen ‘dead zones.’

Illinois residents have already seen the harmful effects of the Beardstown plant’s pollution.  In March 2015, the same facility spilled 29 million gallons of wastewater into nearby waterways and killed nearly 65,000 fish.  Following the incident, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the company and forced it to pay $150,000 in civil penalties to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and $34,000 to the Illinois Wildlife and Fish Fund.  However, the company never admitted any wrongdoing.

This could be because, shockingly, high levels of pollution emissions do not violate the facility’s permit, which allows it to dump more than 4,000 pounds of nitrogen into the Illinois River daily.  This excessively high permit level is unnecessary as more than half the meat-processing plants in the country currently discharge only a third of the amount of pollution—meaning that the Beardstown plant can easily reduce the environmental damage it causes by installing existing technology.

EPA should revise its outdated 2004 discharge standards to set more stringent water pollution limits that require meat-processing plants to use the best available control technologies and require better monitoring of and reporting by the facilities to ensure they are in compliance.  In addition, EPA must work with state authorities to set more restrictive standards for processing plants that discharge into sensitive waterways, like the Illinois River, by setting total maximum daily load limits and better enforcing standards by requiring penalties and reclamation when violations occur.

I urge EPA to use its full authority to protect public and environmental health by requiring meat-processing plantings, including the JBS plant in Beardstown, Illinois, to use every available method to reduce the pollution they emit in the rivers, lakes, and streams we use for recreation and drinking water.  Illinois communities are counting on it.

Thank you for your consideration.  I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Senator Richard Durbin.”

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The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that empowers communities and protects public health and the environment by investigating polluters, holding them accountable under the law, and strengthening public policy.

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org