Montco Meat Packer Fined $2M for Fish Kill

Publication Date 06/16/2010
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

A Montgomery County beef processing plant that officials said released fish-killing pollutants into the Skippack Creek will pay $2 million in penalties, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The fines were levied after the firm, Moyer Packing Co. in Franconia Township, dumped pollutants into the creek. Skippack Creek is a tributary of the Perkiomen Creek, which flows into the Schuylkill.

The federal complaint was filed in 2008 against JBS Souderton Inc., which owns Moyer Packing Co., under the Clean Water Act and Clean Streams Law. JBS Souderton Inc. bought Moyer Packing Co in 2008 from the Smithfield Beef Group.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said violations occurred over a five-year period beginning in 2003. Three of those incidents led to the deaths of nearly 25,000 fish in a mile-long portion of the creek. The first reported fish kill occurred Aug. 10, 2007. followed by incidents on Dec. 5, 2007, and June 10, 2008.

The plant, at 741 Souder Rd. in Souderton, spilled pollutants into the creek in excess of state limitations and at times without a permit, officials said. The company’s facilities were also outdated but are being renovated, said Kelly Heffner, deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

“Implementation of this decree will improve the water quality on Skippack creek, the quality of recreational opportunities and improve the overall aesthetics and quality of life here in the Schuylkill River Basin,” Heffner said.

Three agencies investigated the case: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The settlement also requires JBS Souderton Inc. to make operational changes in the Souderton plant. These include improved record-keeping, installation of a computer run system to monitor equipment, and the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant which cost $6 million and should be completed in July.

The plant employs 1,600 people. It slaughters about 2,000 head of cattle a day, producing 180 million pounds of boxed beef and 17 million pounds of ground beef a year. The plant then renders leftover slaughter materials, including animal fat, bone and blood and recycled kitchen grease from area restaurants.

Crystal Gilchrist, executive director of the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy, said the out-of-date facilities weren’t equipped to handle that potentially hazardous material.

But Gilchrist, who says she has met with representatives from JBS Souderton, said the company has improved its practices and facilities since the last fish kill.

“They’ve been very involved in terms of trying to bring things up to current standards. Problems with their wastewater treatment go way back, but we’re pleased with the upgrades they were making even before the settlement came out,” Gilchrist said.

The EPA said that over the past seven years, the company failed to report levels of pollutants. Court documents show high levels of e-coli, ammonia, phosphorus, and oil and grease in the polluted portion of the creek.

This is the largest settlement JBS Souderton has had with regard to Moyer Packing Co. It comes after a series of smaller agreements. In June 2007 the DEP fined Moyer $61,000 for air-quality violations. Under an October 2007 agreement, the company paid DEP and the state Fish and Boat Commission $77,888 for two 2006 incidents, one involving a power outage and the other the result of an obstructed drain used to carry waste water from the plant.

While Gilchrist said she’s pleased with the settlement, she added that Skippack Creek itself is struggling.

“It’s a creek that has been used hard,” she said. “This is one step forward, one big step forward, but it’s not like we don’t have more to do to get that creek back to a place we can be proud of.”

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