In Response to Lawsuit, EPA Pledges to Strengthen Standards for Slaughterhouse Water Pollution

In a victory for clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on September 9, 2021, that it will update grossly outdated water-pollution control standards for the slaughterhouse industry. The announcement follows a December 2019 lawsuit Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined with several other community and conservation organizations challenging its prior decision not to do so.

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.

Along with its announcement, EPA reported that 74 percent 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.

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, 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.

An October 2018 report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, “Water Pollution from Slaughterhouses,” reviewed the records of 98 meat and poultry processing plants across the U.S. and found that the median facility released an average of 331 pounds of total nitrogen per day into local rivers and streams, about as much as the amount contained in in raw sewage from a town of 14,000 people.

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