Federal Government Reaches Settlement With Companies For Contaminating Groundwater, Surface Waters

The federal government reached two related settlements under which Seaboard Foods LP and PIC USA Inc. will take significant steps at many of their facilities to ensure future compliance with environmental laws and to resolve allegations that the companies contaminated groundwater and surface waters near several of their facilities, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and EPA announced on Sept. 15.

Seaboard Foods LP, one of the nation's largest vertically integrated pork producers, is the current owner of more than 200 farms in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Colorado. PIC USA Inc. is the former owner and operator of several of the farms located in Oklahoma now operated by Seaboard.

Under the first consent decree, Seaboard Foods and PIC USA Inc will pay a civil penalty of $240,000 for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal hazardous waste statute, dating back to 2001. In the second settlement, Seaboard will pay a civil penalty of $205,000 for failure to comply with the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA), and for failure to comply with the continuous release reporting requirements of Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA -- Superfund law) and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). Payment of a $100,000 civil penalty by Seaboard in a separate air compliance agreement with EPA will be credited toward this amount.

"(These) settlements represent an excellent result for the people of Oklahoma and a significant commitment by the companies to address the impacts of their operations and to remedy their impacts on groundwater and surface waters," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The government's complaints, filed in conjunction with the settlements, allege that Seaboard Foods LP and PIC USA Inc., an international swine producer, contaminated the groundwater near five farms in Oklahoma, and failed to properly investigate or remediate the source of the contamination, in violation of an EPA order issued under RCRA. As part of this settlement, the companies have agreed to clean and close leaking lagoons, implement measures to ensure any future leaking pipes or lagoons are identified and addressed promptly, and take steps to ensure that the area ground water is cleaned up. In addition, Seaboard Foods LP and PIC USA Inc. have agreed that when manure is used for crop fertilization purposes, it will be applied at appropriate rates, so to prevent future soil or groundwater contamination.

As part of a separate settlement, Seaboard Foods will be required to implement various erosion control measures at 16 farms to prevent any future runoff of soils and sediments to nearby rivers or streams, and to establish protective buffer zones around sensitive wetland areas at 17 of its farms. Seaboard Foods further certified its compliance with the continuous release reporting requirements of CERCLA and EPCRA at all of its 239 farms.

DOJ lodged both consent decrees on Sept. 15 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The consent decrees will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent judicial approval and are available on the DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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