Enforcement

Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. Clean Water Act Settlement

(WASHINGTON, DC - May 18, 2011) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) today announced that Mahard Egg Farm, Inc., a Texas corporation, will pay a $1.9 million penalty to resolve claims that the company violated the Clean Water Act (CWA) at its egg production facilities in Texas and Oklahoma. The civil penalty is the largest amount to be paid in a federal enforcement action involving a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). The company will also spend approximately $3.5 million on remedial measures to ensure compliance with the law and protect the environment and people's health.
 

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Overview of Company and Facility Locations

Mahard Egg Farm, Inc. is a Texas corporation that owns and operates seven facilities in Oklahoma and Texas. Defendant has been in business since approximately 1930 and is one of the largest egg producing companies in the United States. In 2003, Egg Industry Magazine ranked Mahard as No. 17 on its list of the nation's top egg producers.

Mahard owns five production facilities in Oklahoma and three in Texas, not all of which are still in operation. In general, the facilities include pullet houses, where chicks are hatched; layer facilities, where eggs are produced and processed; and composting facilities, where animal carcasses are composted prior to being land applied to agricultural fields. Mahard's seven facilities are more specifically identified as follows:

  • Prosper located in Denton County Texas
  • Vernon-Chillicothe located in Wilbarger and Hardemon Counties, Texas
  • Springhill facility located in Denton County, Texas
  • Nebo Ranch located in Murray County, Okla.
  • Ravia located in Johnston County, Okla.
  • Granite Ranch located in Johnston County, Okla.
  • Boogie Hill located in Murray County, Okla.

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Violations

Mahard's poultry operations generated significant amounts of manure -- estimated to be in excess of 50,000 tons of dry manure per year. Mahard applied poultry manure to its agricultural fields in excess of the agronomic rates, resulting in the accumulation of large amounts of nutrients in the soils.

Rain causes these nutrients to discharge to area waterways. Mahard's facilities are in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) Sections 301 and 402.

  • Violations of CWA Section 402: Mahard failed to design, construct, operate or close its wastewater and manure lagoons in compliance with federal and state laws and its NPDES permits.
  • Violations of CWA Section 301 and 402: Wastewater from the lagoons and seeps around the barns flowed untreated through channels and into area waterways without a permit at the Prosper, Texas facility and in violation of its NPDES permits at six other facilities.
  • Violations of CWA Section 402: Mahard failed to maintain adequate grass buffer strips along area waterways in violation of federal and state law and its NPDES permits. Mahard failed to comply with numerous operations and maintenance requirements specified in its NPDES permits.
  • Violations of CWA Section 402: Mahard failed to comply with the requirements of the Texas Construction Storm Water General Permit or to ensure adequate drinking water for its employees at its facility near Vernon, Texas.
  • The States of Texas and Oklahoma also alleged violations of comparable state laws.

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Injunctive Relief

Mahard must address CWA violations at all seven of its facilities. The terms of the Consent Decree:

  • Prohibit land application of manure on Mahard's agricultural fields that have excessive concentrations of phosphorus in the soils, and restrict land application at other agricultural fields.
  • Require Mahard to clean out and properly dispose of accumulated manure in its poultry barns.
  • Require Mahard to clean out and properly close its inactive wastewater and manure lagoons, and to conduct ground water monitoring until groundwater falls below certain threshold contaminate levels.
  • Require Mahard to obtain permit coverage for its unpermitted Prosper, Texas facility and comply with its existing NPDES permits at the other six facilities.
  • Require Mahard to install and maintain 100-foot buffer strips along waterways that cross its facilities.
  • Restrict, and in some cases prohibit, the grazing of livestock on agricultural fields that have excessive levels of phosphorus contamination.
  • Require Mahard to properly compost all mortalities, and prohibits further land application in violation of the Consent Decree.
  • Require Mahard to construct a concrete lined storage structure to store manure at the Ravia, Okla. facility.
  • Require Mahard to provide adequate treatment of drinking water at its Vernon-Chillicothe, Texas facility.

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Pollutants Reductions

This Consent Decree will prohibit Mahard from contributing any excess nutrients to the environment, and will require Mahard to reduce nutrient levels in the soils so that, over time, levels of nutrients in the soil will return to normal.

In some cases, the byproducts of excessive nutrient application (nitrates) have migrated to groundwater. At its Vernon-Chillicothe, Texas facility, Mahard relied on groundwater to provide drinking water to its employees. The Consent Decree will ensure that the groundwater is properly treated to meet drinking water standards prior to human consumption.

The wastewater lagoons at Mahard's facilities were not constructed in accordance with permit standards. Most did not have liners and the extent to which these lagoons contributed to groundwater contamination is unknown.

EPA is satisfied that there were no drinking water receptors that would be threatened by any groundwater contamination that did occur. The Consent Decree requires Mahard to close the lagoons, and to monitor groundwater concentrations of certain pollutants for a period of at least three years, or until the pollutant levels are reduced below 10 parts per million (ppm) for nitrate nitrogen, 10 ppm for ammonium nitrogen and 10 parts per billion (ppb) for arsenic.


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Health and Environmental Effects

Mahard's violations have resulted in significant amounts of pollutant discharge to surface waters. Pollutants associated with poultry operations include nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), pathogens and organic enrichment (low dissolved oxygen).

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
  • transmitting diseases to humans via bacteria and parasites.

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Civil Penalty

Under the Consent Decree, Defendants will pay a civil penalty of $1.9 million to be split equally among the United States, the State of Texas and the State of Oklahoma. The penalty is payable in two installments, the first due within 30 days from entry of the Consent Decree and the second due within 180 days from entry.


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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.


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For more information, contact:

James Vinch
U.S. EPA
Office of Civil Enforcement
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-1256
James Vinch (vinch.james@epa.gov)

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