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EPA To Address Slaughterhouse Waste Causing Algae Blooms, Breeding Bacteria


The Environmental Protection Agency plans to update the water pollution standards for slaughterhouses— something that hasn’t been done in more than 15 years.

Sylvia Lam is an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, one of several groups that sued the EPA for refusing to update the water standards for slaughterhouses. She said wastewater from these plants is contaminated with blood and fats which can pollute waterways with bacteria like E. coli and excess nutrients that can lead to harmful algae blooms.

“It can severely degrade habitat, lower water quality, affect drinking water, and these also harm wildlife that use the waterways," Lam said.

Most of the slaughterhouses that discharge their waste directly into local rivers and streams are located within a mile of lower-income communities and communities of color. The EPA doesn’t have pollution standards for other slaughterhouses that send their wastewater to sewage treatment plants.

Environment America's slaughterhouse map shows the location of large slaughterhouses across the country, as well as smaller slaughterhouses and other facilities such as rendering plants for which 2019 water pollution data was available from EPA's Water Pollution Loading Tool or Toxics Release Inventory.

Lam said the lack of new pollution standards has allowed large meat processing companies to continue to use decades-old pollution control technology at some of their plants — even if they have more modern tech at a newer plant in the same state.

“It’s not fair that some plants are polluting much dirtier wastewater than others when it’s clear that they could be a lot cleaner," she said.

Lam said the Environmental Integrity Project applauds EPA’s decision to update the standards for slaughterhouses, but it’s unclear if the agency will do so in a timely manner.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.