US to tighten water regulations for meat processing plants

EPA to update water pollution rules for slaughterhouses
calendar icon 2 March 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to update its water pollution rules for slaughterhouses for the first time in nearly 20 years, the agency announced on Wednesday, following a lawsuit from environmental groups arguing current standards are too weak, according to Reuters.

Under the US Clean Water Act, the EPA regulates wastewater discharge from meat and poultry plants into nearby lakes and streams. Neighbouring communities have increasingly complained that the discharges have dirtied their environment and drinking water.

Slaughterhouses are the top emitting industry of phosphorus, a mineral that can asphyxiate fish by triggering explosive growth of algae and aquatic plants in water. They are also huge emitters of nitrogen, which can have a similar impact.

According to EPA documents, 74% of meat plants that discharge wastewater to surface waters are within one mile of low-income communities or communities of colour.

The EPA's move to update meat and poultry industry standards is part of a proposed consent decree that would settle litigation with community and environmental groups who sued the agency late last year over the issue.

"EPA's plan to strengthen these rules is a win for downstream communities," said Sarah Kula, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, one of the groups that sued. EPA last updated the regulations in 2004.

Just 300 of the nation's 7,000 meat and poultry slaughter and rendering plants are covered by existing water discharge standards, which apply to plants over a certain size that discharge directly into streams, lakes or oceans, according to EPA documents.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The US Poultry and Egg Association and North American Meat Institute also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The proposed standards will be published by the end of 2023 and finalised by 2025.

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