Swift Beef Co. to pay $1.3 million for violations

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – Swift Beef Company, a subsidiary of JBS SA, has agreed to pay $1.3 million to the United States and state of Nebraska to settle alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Nebraska state law at its Grand Island, Neb., beef processing plant. The US Department of Justice and the US Environmental Protection Agency made the announcement.

Swift’s Grand Island beef processing plant slaughters, fabricates and packages approximately 5,800 head of beef per day. The plant also conducts blood drying, rendering and hide pickling. Its Grand Island plant employs approximately 2,700 employees.

Swift has already spent more than $1 million at its Grand Island plant in implementing measures to reduce pollutants in its wastewater as required by its discharge permits issued by the state of Nebraska under the Clean Water Act.

According to a DOJ press release, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality issued Swift a permit under the Clean Water Act that allowed Swift to discharge wastewater containing limited amounts of pollutants directly to the Wood River and to the city of Grand Island’s publicly owned treatment works (POTW). The permit prohibited Swift from discharging pollutants that would interfere with the POTW’s treatment process and also required Swift to monitor and report its discharges.

Swift violated its permit on numerous occasions between 2006 and 2011 by discharging pollutants in excess of the permitted limits and that caused interference with the Grand Island’s POTW’s treatment process, according to the complaint, in which Nebraska joined as a co-plaintiff. Some of these violations allegedly resulted in a 2008 fish kill in a 16-mile portion of the Wood River and a 7.5-mile length of the Platte River. An estimated 10,000 fish were killed. The complaint alleges Swift also violated its permits’ reporting requirements, as well as effluent limitations in an emergency order issued by the state of Nebraska in April 2008.

After the fish kill in 2008, Swift made voluntary improvements to its treatment system to prevent future upsets at Grand Island’s POTW and to protect aquatic life and beneficial uses, such as fishing, swimming and boating in the Wood and Platte rivers. The expansion of Swift’s anaerobic treatment system and installation of centrifuges will result in annual pollutant reductions of 1,281,150 lbs. of carbonaceous biological oxygen demand (CBOD), 579,438 lbs. of total suspended solids (TSS) and 340,195 lbs. of oil and grease.

The consent decree requires Swift to pay more than $1.3 million in civil penalties and damages to natural resources, including a $1.2 million civil penalty for its Clean Water Act violations that will be split evenly between the US and Nebraska. Swift will also pay Nebraska $100,000 for violations of a state 2008 administrative order and will pay the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission $4,705 for resource damages to restock waters with fish and clams.

JBS/Swift said it is pleased to have reached an amicable resolution that resolves both federal and state claims regarding the Grand Island beef processing facility’s wastewater and non-contact cooling water discharges as outlined in the settlement (consent decree) between Swift, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, in a press release sent to MEATPOULTRY.com.

“Since the incidents noted in the consent decree, JBS, which acquired Swift Beef Company and the Grand Island facility in 2007, has invested more than $45 million in capital improvements to the facility and added approximately 270 jobs to the community,” the statement said. “Of the $45 million in capital improvements, more than $1 million has been invested in processes and technologies to improve wastewater quality. As a result, the Grand Island facility is now in full compliance with its wastewater discharge requirements.”

The facility is also constructing an upgrade to its wastewater treatment system in order to meet more stringent wastewater discharge limits that go into effect in November 2011. Construction is on schedule, and JBS/Swift expects to be in full compliance with the new limits when they go into effect. Many of the improvements were and are being completed with the help of local contractors.

“JBS/Swift strives to be a responsible corporate citizen in everything we do, and it’s our constant commitment to meet all environmental regulations and requirements as well as to contribute positively to the communities in which we operate. We regret any oversights that led to these events, and we’ll continue to cooperate fully with the EPA, the NDEQ and all other authorities to ensure that our impact in Grand Island is positive,” the statement concluded.
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