Greeley JBS Meat-Processing Plant Allegedly Violated The Clean Water Act For 5 Years

November 21, 2019
SWIFT & COSWIFT & COEd Andrieski/AP
Employees leave the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant after a shift change in Greeley, Colo., Dec. 15, 2004. JBS USA bought the plant in 2007.

Advocacy groups sued JBS USA’s meat-processing plant for how it’s discharging its water into a Greeley stream, but now are in discussions over a settlement.

In their joint complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch said that JBS violated requirements under the Clean Water Act.

Routine testing for toxins in water is supposed to ensure that any discharged liquid waste is not too toxic for aquatic life.

JBS, under its Clean Water Act permit, is allowed to get rid of their waste into the Lone Tree Creek as long as it adequately treats the waste from its two slaughterhouses. The beef plant kills between 3,000 and 6,000 animals per day. The wastewater includes animal fat, meat, blood and e.coli. It is sent to Lone Tree Facility for treatment and disposal.

In the complaint, the two advocacy groups alleged that the meat-packing plant violated the water testing limits consecutively for five years.

Food & Water Watch also alleges that the state health department knew about these violations for years but didn’t adequately enforce the law.

Tarah Heinzen, senior lawyer for Food & Water Watch, said the health department was working with JBS and waiting for the company to come back into compliance.

“We looked at what the state had done about these violations and did not see any meaningful enforcement,” Heinzen said.

Because of this, the groups filed a citizens suit, which is when citizens step in for the state for enforcement purposes.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said that the JBS’ violations are not a threat to human health. It also said it did not fine JBS within the last five years because they have been working together to get the plant back into compliance since 2014.

Patrick Pflatzgraff, the division director of the Water Quality Control Division, said JBS was cooperative with the health department.

JBS bought more advanced equipment to get itself within the water compliance, but that technology then caused the company to violate the department’s air quality requirements.

“We looked at that as an entity that was doing what we were asking them to do,” Pflatzgraff said. “So a penalty in that instance wasn’t going to drive them to compliance.”

Pflatzgraff said the health department may begin using a legal document between the state and industries more often. The document would set milestones to get companies in violation back on track. There would be penalties if the entity doesn’t meet the milestone.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Pflatzgraph said. “We learned from it, and there are probably things we will do differently in the future.”

In a written statement, JBS said:

“Over the past five years, JBS USA has invested substantial capital in an innovative technology to improve environmental performance at the Lone Tree wastewater treatment facility. This type of technology is the most effective way to minimize industrial wastewater, and it took time to get right – longer than we would have liked – but we have remained in communication with our partners at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to share our progress.”

Both JBS and the health department said that JBS has been in compliance since January.

Details of the possible settlement are not open to the public at this time.