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Groups Poised to Sue Sunnyside Dairy for Endangering Public Health

March 06, 2019
Center for Food Safety

Groups Poised to Sue Sunnyside Dairy for Endangering Public Health

Community Groups and Center for Food Safety will take the industrial dairy to court for polluting the drinking water of Yakima residents

YAKIMA, WA – This week, Community Association of Restoration of the Environment (CARE), Friends of Toppenish Creek, and Center for Food Safety warned Sunnyside Dairy, LLC that they will take them to federal court to stop contamination of local drinking water supplies with animal waste from their dairy operations.

The notice, sent to the owners of Sunnyside Dairy #1 and #2, comes 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. Sunnyside Dairy is seriously mismanaging its manure and 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. Sunnyside Dairy, with over 7,000 cows, creates a massive amount of pollution, many times the human population of Yakima County.

"We are sick and tired of these industrial dairies treating our homes as dumping grounds," said Helen Reddout, President of CARE. "CARE has been working to undo the pollution damage inflicted by these mega-dairies for decades and we will keep at it until the problem has been solved."

"These industrial dairies have been polluting for far too long and it is time to stop. Leaky lagoons, overapplied manure, and just too much manure to handle are just three consequences of these irresponsible industrial operations," stated Charlie Tebbutt, lead counsel for the community groups. "Once again, the people have been forced to take action to protect themselves due to negligence by both state and federal agencies that ignore these imminent threats to public health from dairies like Sunnyside."

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, Sunnyside Dairy is 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 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.

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

"Sunnyside is exporting its significant public health and environmental costs to the people of Washington, who federal laws are intended to protect," said Amy van Saun, staff attorney with Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the groups. "We will not sit by while these mega-dairies treat communities as hazardous waste dumps. We cannot let Sunnyside or any industrial dairy sacrifice the health and safety of neighbors in the pursuit of profits."

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 letter, please click here.


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