Texas Egg Producer Fined $1.9 Million for Water Pollution

DALLAS, Texas, May 19, 2011 (ENS) – A Texas egg producer will pay a $1.9 million penalty to resolve violations of the federal Clean Water Act, the largest amount ever paid in a federal enforcement action involving a concentrated animal feeding operation, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. is alleged to have violated the Clean Water Act at seven egg production facilities in Texas and Oklahoma. Mahard Egg Farm is a Texas corporation established near Prosper, Texas in 1926 and still operated by members of the Mahard family.

The company also will spend $3.5 million on remedial measures to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act and protect the environment and people’s health.

Mahard Egg Farm’s CAFO at Prosper, Texas. A crew was dismantling an old warehouse when it caught fire, drawing firefighters from nearby towns, July 30, 2010. (Photo by Paulette Baird)

The federal government and and the states of Texas and Oklahoma allege that Mahard operated a facility without a permit and discharged pollutants into area waterways.

Mahard also allegedly discharged pollutants or otherwise failed to comply with the terms of its permits at six other facilities, including its newest facility near Vernon, Texas, where it also failed to comply with the Texas Construction Storm Water Permit and to ensure safe drinking water for its employees.

The states of Texas and Oklahoma also alleged violations of state laws.

Most egg production facilities generate wastes, including wet or dry manure from chicken houses, wastewater from the egg-washing process, and compost from chicken carcasses. If handled according to law, these wastes may be sold or contained on-site in manure storage lagoons, before being applied to enrich the soil in nearby fields.

But, the joint complaint alleges, as a result of Mahard’s practice of over-applying waste to its fields, the soils at its facilities are saturated with the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus. During and after rainfall, these nutrients run off the fields into streams and waterways.

In addition, at several facilities, Mahard abandoned inactive and improperly designed manure lagoons rather than closing them as required by law.

Mahard’s violations have resulted in significant amounts of pollutant discharge to surface waters, the EPA says. Pollutants associated with poultry operations include nutrients, pathogens and organic enrichment, which cause low dissolved oxygen levels.

A chicken factory farm, not Mahard’s (Photo credit unknown)

These pollutants threaten human health and the environment by increasing suspended solids that cloud the water and inhibit the functioning of aquatic plants and animals, contributing to algae growth which can cause decreased oxygen levels adversely affecting fish and other aquatic life, and transmitting diseases to humans via bacteria and parasites.

The complaint was filed jointly with the settlement by the United States and the states of Texas and Oklahoma in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

“By working with the Department of Justice and our state partners in Texas and Oklahoma, we have reached a significant settlement that reflects the seriousness of Mahard’s violations,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Large animal feeding operations that fail to comply with our nation’s environmental laws threaten public health and the environment and put smaller farming operations at a disadvantage.”

As part of this settlement, Mahard has committed to comprehensive, system-wide changes in order to bring each of its seven CAFO facilities into compliance with applicable state and federal laws, permits, and regulations and to restore the lands to prevent future discharges to area waterways.

The settlement mandates lagoon closures, groundwater monitoring, and the construction and maintenance of buffer strips along area waterways within the facility boundaries.

It also requires ongoing land restoration and management measures, such as restrictions on land-application of manure and livestock grazing.

“This agreement is the result of extensive cooperation between the states of Texas and Oklahoma and the federal government to address multiple violations of the Clean Water Act at Mahard facilities,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.

“Ensuring the lawful handling of CAFO wastes will mean cleaner steams and waterways in Texas and Oklahoma, which is important for aquatic habitats, safe drinking water, and public recreation,” Moreno said.

Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and ground waters of the United States is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011-2013. The initiative continues EPA’s focus on large and medium sized CAFOs that are discharging pollution without or in violation of a permit.

The settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. Once approved, the civil penalty of $1.9 million will be split equally among the United States, the State of Texas and the State of Oklahoma.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.