Groups Sue Yakima Valley Dairy Factories for Endangering Public Health
Community Groups and Center for Food Safety take dirty dairies to court for polluting neighbors' drinking water
YAKIMA, WA: Yesterday, Community Association of Restoration of the Environment (CARE), Friends of Toppenish Creek, and Center for Food Safety filed a citizen suit against two major Yakima Valley factory dairies in federal court to stop contamination of local drinking water supplies with animal waste from their dairy operations.
The lawsuit against SMD (formerly Snipes Mountain Dairy) and DBD (formerly DeRuyter Brothers Dairy)—both under common ownership by the infamous DeCoster family of Iowa and Maine—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. Those dairies, like SMD and DBD, seriously mismanaged their manure and were 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. The dairies in the Lower Yakima Valley, including SMD and DBD, create a massive amount of pollution, many times the human population of Yakima County.
"We've been trying to undo the damage inflicted by these mega dairies for decades," said Helen Reddout, President of CARE. "Washington's people, homes, wildlife, and environment are being treated as a dumping group by these massive dairies. We won't back down until the problem has been solved."
"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 DBD and SMD," said Charlie Tebbutt, lead counsel for the community groups. "Leaky lagoons, over-applied manure, and just too much manure to handle are just three consequences of these irresponsible industrial operations in the absence of government regulation."
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, SMD and DBD dairies, like others around the state, are 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, in violation of RCRA. In addition to nitrate contamination of groundwater and 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.
"Bringing these actions against factory 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 nearly 100 mg per liter of nitrates. That's ten times the federal safety limit."
"These factory dairies are exporting significant public health and environmental costs to the surrounding communities, which federal laws are intended to protect," said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the groups. "We cannot let factory dairies like SMD and DBD sacrifice the health and safety of neighbors in the pursuit of profits. We will not sit by while these mega-dairies treat Washington communities as waste dumps. "
In addition to Tebbutt, CARE, Friends of Toppenish Creek and 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 complaint, please click here.