WASHINGTON— In a victory for clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced late Wednesday that it will update water-pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry. The announcement follows a December 2019 lawsuit from community and conservation organizations challenging its prior decision not to do so.
“For decades the EPA has allowed slaughterhouses to rely on outdated or nonexistent treatment technologies to dump their pollution into our waterways,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Not only are these lenient standards harming critically imperiled fish, mussels and salamanders, but according to the EPA’s own findings they’re also disproportionately harming BIPOC communities. The agency should act quickly to update these ineffective pollution standards so people, animals and plants are protected.”
In addition to developing rules for the meat and poultry processing plants — including slaughterhouses — EPA announced it will create rules to reduce pollution from metal finishing businesses and chemical manufacturers discharging polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as forever chemicals.
EPA also confirmed Wednesday it will develop rules to strengthen pollution limits for coal fired power plants that use steam to generate electricity, also responding to a lawsuit brought by the Center and its allies.
“It’s a great first step that EPA has decided to finally modernize the standards for meat and poultry plants across the country, which had not been updated since at least 2004,” said Sylvia Lam, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “We now expect EPA to let us know when they plan to propose updated standards to protect our waterways and communities, since the current limits are allowing an excessive amount of pollution.”
EPA reported that 74% of slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into rivers and streams are within one mile of under-resourced communities, low-income communities or communities of color.
“Slaughterhouses are leading sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and their pollution disproportionately harms under-resourced communities, low-income communities, and communities of color,” said Alexis Andiman, an attorney at Earthjustice. “We applaud EPA for recognizing that it’s time to update the outdated standards governing pollution from slaughterhouses. Together with our partners, we look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the new standards adequately protect people and the environment.”
In December 2019 the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit against EPA on behalf of Cape Fear River Watch, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society of the United States and Waterkeeper Alliance. The lawsuit challenged EPA’s prior refusal to modernize pollution standards for slaughterhouses in light of evidence demonstrating that revision is necessary.