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Hawai'i CFS

Groups Poised to Sue Yakima Valley Dairy Factories for Endangering Public Health

February 12, 2019
Center for Food Safety

Photo credit: Yakima Valley, WA / Wiki commons

Groups Poised to Sue Yakima Valley Dairy Factories for Endangering Public Health

Community Groups and Center for Food Safety will take dirty dairies to court for polluting neighbors' drinking water

YAKIMA, WA â?? Today, Community Association of Restoration of the Environment (CARE), Friends of Toppenish Creek, and Center for Food Safety warned two major Yakima Valley factory dairies that they will take them to federal court to stop contamination of local drinking water supplies with animal waste from their dairy operations.

The notices, sent to SMD, LLC and DBD Washington dairies, both under common ownership, come several years after a landmark settlement where a "cluster" of four other dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley agreed to implement sweeping changes to their operations following a series of similar lawsuits brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by some of the same groups. Those dairies, like SMD and DBD, seriously mismanaged their manure and were causing contamination of the drinking water supplies in the Lower Yakima Valley with nitrates, bovine antibiotics, phosphorus, and other pollutants. Nitrates can cause severe health problems such as blue baby syndrome, several forms of cancer, autoimmune system dysfunction, and reproductive problems. The dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley, including SMD and DBD, create a massive amount of pollution, many times the human population of Yakima County.

"We are sick and tired of these dairies treating our communities as dumping grounds," said Helen Reddout, President of CARE. "CARE has been at this problem for decades and will keep at it until the dairy industry stops polluting."

"These industrial dairies, like so many others in the state, have been polluting the community for far too long and it is time to stop. Leaky lagoons, overapplied manure, and just too much manure to handle are the problem," stated Charlie Tebbutt, lead counsel for the community groups. "State and federal agencies continue to ignore the imminent threats to public health, so the people, once again, are forced take action to protect themselves."

While some of the dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley have begun to clean up their acts after the historic court victory and subsequent settlement in 2015, SMD and DBD dairies, like others around the state, are continuing to violate federal laws by polluting groundwater with excess nutrients, causing nitrate contamination of neighbors' drinking water wells far over the federal safety levels. Because these dairies must continuously get rid of the massive amount of waste generated by the livestock, soil testing by these two dairies reveals that they grossly over-apply waste to fields that do not need fertilization, in violation of RCRA. In addition to nitrate contamination of groundwater and drinking water, the soils at these dairies test positive for excessive phosphorus levels which contaminates ground and surface waters, leading to nutrient blooms in surface water that starves fish and other aquatic species of oxygen.

"Suing dairies benefits the community by bringing facts into the light of day. Without litigation the public would not know that some lower valley wells have over 100 mg/L nitrates and some dairies apply up to seven times more manure than the crops can handle. Expert testimony and the legal process help us all to better understand reality and to protect our families from pollution," said Jean Mendoza, Executive Director of Friends of Toppenish Creek.

"We will not sit by while these industrial mega-dairies treat communities like a hazardous waste dump and sacrifice the health and safety of neighbors in the pursuit of profits," said Amy van Saun, staff attorney with Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the groups. "Factory dairies like SMD and DBD externalize their significant public health and environmental costs to the people of Washington. This is what our federal laws are meant to prevent and we will enforce them until the Washington dairy industry cleans up its act."

In addition to Tebbutt, CARE, Friends of Toppenish Creek and the Center for Food Safety are represented by the Terrell Marshall Law Group, PLLC and the Law Office of Andrea Rodgers, both in Seattle, Washington.

To view the Notice of Intent to Sue letters, please click here and here.