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EPA: Gainesville poultry plant violated Clean Water Act
Company 'may be subject to enforcement action,' letter says
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Floating fats entering the city’s wastewater system, maggots on a pipe wall and blood on a trailer are just a few of the things found by federal investigators in an Aug. 27 inspection at Pilgrim’s Pride in Gainesville.

“Maggots were observed on concrete, in pipes and in liquid flowing in a pipe that crosses the parking area,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report also states.

Furthermore, “at the beginning of the inspection, we were told that all drains go to the Gainesville wastewater treatment system via Pilgrim’s pre-treatment system. However, the drain inlet in front of the training center goes across the public street to the city storm drain.”

Government officials followed up the five-hour inspection at the 949 Industrial Blvd. plant with a Jan. 28 letter saying Pilgrim’s Pride had failed to comply with permit requirements and violated sections of the Clean Water Act.

The strongly worded letter goes on to say the company has failed to meet requirements in 24 individual permits, including one requiring that waste, garbage and “floatable debris” aren’t discharged from the plant.

The company “may be subject to enforcement action” until compliance with the Clean Water Act is met.

Action could involve penalties, compliance orders and the start of civil and criminal actions, says the letter, written by James D. Giattina, director of the EPA’s Water Protection Division in Atlanta.

“Fecal coliform (bacteria) should be a pollutant of concern for this site due to the fecal impairment in Flat Creek ... and the live poultry handling that takes place,” the EPA report states.

Mike Giles, president of the Gainesville-based Georgia Poultry Federation, said Pilgrims Pride could not comment because of legal considerations.

In response to the EPA’s letter and report, Giles said, “Due process allows the permit holders to address the allegations and defend themselves.”

On Aug. 27, the EPA also conducted a 3 1/2-hour inspection of the Mar-Jac plant at 1020 Aviation Blvd., but its report wasn’t nearly as graphic.

“No active spills or leaks were observed during the inspection,” the report states.

Plant workers said they weren’t aware of any recent leaks or spills “of toxics that would have been exposed to stormwater,” according to the report.

Further discussions were held about documents provided by an area citizens group appearing to show stained or bloody water discharging from an outfall at the Mar-Jac plant. A company official said he believed work had been done recently in a manhole sump near the outfall, the report says.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog group that has long monitored water quality in Lake Lanier, hopes “this attention by the EPA will resolve this issue so these facilities can continue to operate, but do so under laws that are designed to protect that water for everybody who uses it,” said Duncan Hughes, headwaters outreach director with the group.

Giles said, in responding to both investigations, sampling data show fecal coliform concentrations “are higher upstream of processing plants.”

He also said fecal coliform “is a criteria which has serious limitations when used as an indicator of potential human health impacts.”

And data also show the concentrations “are extremely low as the creek enters Lake Lanier,” Giles said.

Downstream from Pilgrim’s Pride and Mar-Jac is Gainesville’s Flat Creek Water Reclamation Facility.

Water traveling downstream from the reclamation plant to Lake Lanier “is treated wastewater and should have zero fecal coliform or E. coli,” Hughes said.

Fecal coliform and E. coli, which is a species of bacteria found in human intestines, “indicate the potential presence of many other pathogens that could be present in the runoff hitting Flat Creek,” he said.

Pollution issues have long dogged Flat Creek, a waterway that stretches from near downtown Gainesville to Lake Lanier.

Through the years, Flat Creek has suffered from pollution and contamination brought about by everything from litter to sewage spills, leading to a designation as an “impaired” waterway.

Worsening the situation is that the waterway serves as the catch basin for a 7-square-mile highly populated urban watershed. So, rain can push everything from plastic bottles to fertilizer into the creek.

“Poultry companies have a responsibility to protect the environment where they have operations, and they take this responsibility very seriously,” Giles said. “Poultry company facilities spend significant financial resources to employ best management practices and build stormwater (systems) to protect nearby streams.

“That is happening all over the state, including in Flat Creek.”

Gainesville has been working to help Flat Creek with projects geared to improve flood protection, water quality and, to some extent, appearance, including a $1 million project in an area near the century-old Gainesville Mill.

Environmental groups, such as Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the Lake Lanier Association, have said they applaud the city’s actions but say more work needs to be done.

“There is so much impervious surface in the Flat Creek watershed and so many industrial facilities ... don’t have permitted point-source discharges like a wastewater treatment plant would,” Hughes said.

Also part of the problem is that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is “woefully underfunded and understaffed,” he said.

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