Pork Companies To Pay For Violating Environmental Laws

Saturday, September 16th 2006, 7:17 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two pork companies have agreed to pay $445,000 in fines for violating federal environmental laws in the way animal waste was disposed at some of their farms in Oklahoma, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.

Seaboard Foods LP, based in Merriam, Kan., and PIC USA, based in Hendersonville, Tenn., agreed to pay the fines to settle federal lawsuits filed against them in Oklahoma City. The agreements, known as consent decrees, are subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent judicial approval.

The complaints filed against the companies accused them of allowing lagoons containing pig manure and urine and other waste products to leak into ground water at five Oklahoma farms. Seaboard also is accused of allowing the release of excess amounts of ammonia _ considered a hazardous substance _ from a central Oklahoma farm.

The first settlement involved both companies, who will pay $240,000 for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal hazardous waste law. According to court documents, the violations date back to 2001 and occurred at four farms in Kingfisher County, in central Oklahoma, and one in Major County in northwestern Oklahoma.

PIC is the former owner and operator of the farms, which are now owned by Seaboard.

``After acquiring the farms from the previous owners, Seaboard Foods conducted an investigation to identify potential risks and worked expeditiously to proactively make repairs at the same time settlement terms (with the Justice Department) were being discussed, instead of waiting for a final settlement agreement,'' the company said in a statement released Friday. ``Most of the repairs and environmental practices have already been implemented on the farms.''

A phone message left Friday by The Associated Press with Keith Canfield, the vice president for marketing for PIC, wasn't immediately returned.

The government said the companies' actions contaminated the underground sources of drinking water near the farms, as well as the Cimarron River and North Canadian River, and that the companies didn't properly investigate or remediate the source of the contamination. The companies, as part of the settlement, have agreed to clean and close leaky lagoons and to take steps to ensure contaminated ground water is cleaned up.

``People know the value of clean water and air,'' said Richard E. Greene, a regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. ``This settlement represents a significant effort by two major companies to bring their waste-handling operations into compliance. We are pleased with these efforts, which will ensure better air and water near the farms.''

Seaboard also will pay $205,000 in a separate settlement for alleged violations of several federal laws, including the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

The government said Seaboard failed to obtain a permit to discharge industrial pollutants into the Beaver River from a farm which has been open since March 1999 in Beaver County, in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

The government also said Seaboard released more than the allowable 100 pounds per day of ammonia _ a byproduct of pig waste _ from a farm in Kingfisher County and that the company failed to tell federal officials of the excessive ammonia release.

As part of the settlement, Seaboard agreed to implement erosion control measures at 16 of its farms and to establish buffer zones around wetland areas at 17 of its farms. The company owns 239 farms in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Texas.

Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division, said the settlements will help ensure the protection of sources of drinking water in Oklahoma.

Seaboard's statement said that it ``is proud of its proactive environmental resource management program and will continue to develop and implement environmental programs and practices that are environmentally responsible.''