EPA proposes tighter standards to slash slaughterhouse pollution

By Shannon Kelleher

Following a legal challenge from environmental groups, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday proposed new standards aimed at reducing water pollution from slaughterhouses and meat processing plants. The move is the agency’s first such effort in two decades.

The EPA said its preferred option presented in the proposed rule could eliminate about 100 million pounds of water pollution generated by large slaughterhouse and meat processing plants each year.

The plan would put stricter limits in place for nitrogen in liquid waste that is directly discharged into waterways and would establish limitations for phosphorus for the first time. It would also establish the first pretreatment standards for oil, grease, and certain other pollutants. The standards would apply to about 845 of the 3,879 slaughter and meat processing facilities that discharge waste into US waters.

“It’s a very good step in the right direction,” said John Rumpler, senior clean water director for Environment America, a network of state environmental groups. “But by EPA’s own estimates they could be doing more to curb pollution from this sector,” he said.

The EPA said its plan “follows the latest science” and “would help protect the nation’s vital water resources, which support safe drinking water, agriculture, industry, recreation activities, and thriving communities, through the implementation of affordable and available wastewater treatment technologies.”

An alternative option proposed by the EPA would apply to the same 845 facilities, eliminating an estimated 228 million pounds of water pollution per year, according to the EPA. A third option would extend requirements to some smaller facilities, affecting almost twice as many facilities and eliminating an estimated 322 million pounds of pollution per year, the EPA said.

In addition, the EPA is proposing limits on E. coli bacteria in wastewater directly discharged into waterways, which can cause severe illness if consumed by humans.