Yakima Valley Dairy Cases

Yakima Valley Dairy Cases

In October 2012, the Center for Food Safety and the Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) — both represented by Public Justice — warned four major Yakima Valley (Wash.) factory farms that they will take them to federal court unless the farms stop contaminating local drinking water supplies with runoff from their dairy operations and begin to make amends for the damage they have already caused.

Representing the two advocacy groups, Public Justice served 90-day Notice of Intent to Sue letters, alleging that the farms have committed repeated violations of federal environmental laws.

The notices came three weeks after the EPA released a 300-page report, noting that all wells downstream from the Haak Dairy and a “cluster” of four other dairies in the lower Yakima Valley were significantly contaminated with nitrates, bovine antibiotics, and other pollutants. (Nitrates can cause severe health problems such as blue baby syndrome, several forms of cancer, autoimmune system dysfunction, and reproductive problems.)

According to the prospective plaintiffs, the dairies create as much pollution as about 3.1 million people — more than 13 times the entire population of Yakima County. The NOIs claim that the dairies in question have caused an “imminent and substantial endangerment” to health and the environment, and that the dairies’ manure application practices constitute illegal “open dumping” of solid waste.

The notices also allege reporting violations of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Those statutes require the dairies in question to report the release of certain hazardous airborne pollutants, including ammonia, to specific state and local agencies.

The dairies did not resolve the violations discussed in the notices, so Public Justice filed lawsuits in February 2013.

In June 2013, a federal judge in Washington denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, so the suits are proceeding to trial.

CARE and CFS are represented Charlie Tebbutt of Eugene, Ore., Public Justice’s Food Safety & Health Attorney Jessica Culpepper, Elisabeth Holmes of CFS, and Brad Moore of Seattle, Wash.

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