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Dairies Can Be Liable for Manure Under Federal Law, Judge Rules

Dairies Can Be Liable for Manure Under Federal Law, Judge Rules

An image from the Ericksen report, submitted by the plaintiffs in this case. 

A federal judge in Washington State has backed arguments by environmental groups that animal waste that is incorrectly disposed of by livestock facilities can violate solid waste disposal rules and pose an imminent danger to public health.

In a 111-page order issued late Wednesday, Judge Thomas Rice of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted a motion for summary judgment from the Community Association for Restoration of the Environment and Center for Food Safety. The groups charged that three large dairy farms in the state should be subject to and violated provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law regulating the disposal of waste.

While manure is exempt from RCRA when it is used as fertilizer, the court found that the dairies were knowingly over applying it to fields in order to dispose of the material and storing it in ways that allowed it to leak into groundwater. Those actions, the court said, lead to groundwater and other environmental contamination.

The suit will now head to trial where the judge will assess the extent of contamination and determine the type of remediation necessary, according to the order.

Rice’s ruling “is a clear indication that mega-dairies…may not continue to operate in a way that dumps their mess on the people and the environment,” Jessica Culpepper, Food Safety and Health Attorney at Public Justice, said in a statement. “By creating far more manure than the dairy could possibly manage and allowing its facility to operate under filthy conditions, it has endangered not only the environment and a community’s drinking water supply, but the health and safety of the animals, the farmworkers, and dairy consumers as well.”