090101 Beef Processor Sued Over Fish Kills

January 1, 2009

A Souderton, PA area beef processor whose excessive releases of harmful pollutants into the Skippack Creek killed several thousand fish over the last five years has been sued in federal court.

The U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia this week filed a civil lawsuit against JBS Souderton Inc., which owns the former MoPac plant in Franconia Township, seeking thousands of dollars in fines and a stop to illegal discharges from its wastewater treatment plant.

''Industries that discharge pollutants as part of doing business, particularly those adjacent to our waterways, must be especially conscious of the potential for inflicting harm on the environment,'' acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said in a statement Monday when the suit was filed. ''This company had numerous opportunities as well as the financial resources to correct the problem.''

The lawsuit said discharges of fecal bacteria, phosphorous and ammonia exceeded levels, set in the federal Clean Water Act, at least nine times since Dec. 20, 2003.

The company has acknowledged to the state Department of Environmental Protection it was responsible for discharges and fish kills. In October 2007, it agreed to pay nearly $78,000 in fines and make significant upgrades to its wastewater plant. DEP spokesman Dennis Harney said Wednesday construction on the improvements has begun.

JBS said in a statement it is negotiating with the federal government and DEP to resolve the claims in the lawsuit.

That position is noted in a court motion filed Monday by federal and JBS lawyers: ''All of the parties are hopeful they will soon reach a settlement that will make further litigation unnecessary.''

Negotiations should correct violations and ''create a facility that is more compliant with federal and state regulations than it has been in the past,'' Harney said.

In June, another discharge, attributed to a blocked pipe carrying untreated wastewater from the JBS rendering plant, killed 5,000 fish in the Skippack Creek, DEP said.

Last month, DEP ordered JBS to prepare a plan to avoid future blockages by improving the pipe system that takes wastewater from the rendering operation to the treatment plant, Harney said.

Within the next couple of weeks, DEP expects to notify JBS whether its plan is sufficient or needs revision, he said.

JBS Souderton is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the international meat company JBS, which bought the plants and other related assets in October. JBS Souderton runs two plants -- one that makes beef and one that renders leftover cattle parts and restaurant kitchen grease into feed-grade animal fat, bone meal or recycled grease, the lawsuit said.