News Feature | February 24, 2014

Federal Groundwater Pollution Suit Against Dairies Grows

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A judge recently expanded the scope of a groundwater pollution lawsuit against a group of dairies so that it now includes drugs and other substances as potential contaminants. 

The high-profile lawsuit will now focus on "pharmaceuticals, phosphorus and hard metals, not just nitrates," according to the Yakima Herald Republic

The federal case, focused on dairies in Washington state, "has attracted national attention and both sides have recruited heavy-hitting legal help because it has the potential to set a precedent for how society views and handles manure," the report said. 

U.S. District Judge Thomas Rice released the decision Jan. 31.  It was announced by attorneys working on the case last week. Community Association for the Restoration of the Environment (CARE) filed the lawsuit. 

“This decision is important because the court will accept the data that manure contains pollutants, including antibiotics and hormones, other than just the dangerous levels of nitrates that make their way into the groundwater used by people as drinking water and into streams and rivers that fish and wildlife are dependent upon,” Charlie Tebbutt, the attorney representing the environmental group, told the Yakima Herald Republic.

The backdrop is this: CARE first sued the dairies in February 2013, alleging that they violated "the U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal solid waste disposal law, by allowing cow manure to contaminate groundwater through over application and by letting storage lagoons leak," the report said. 

In a ruling last year, the judge decided that the case would go to trial. "The crux of CARE’s argument is that it is plausible for manure to be 'solid waste' after it has ceased to be 'beneficial' or 'useful' when it is over-applied to the fields and when it has leaked away from the lagoons," the opinion said. "The Court agrees." 

One of the five dairies named in the suit has already settled. 

"Rick and Marlene Haak, the former owners of two dairies near Sunnyside, will pay $40,000, remove all manure from the property, turn over water and soil sample records, and allow environmentalists to inspect their property," the Herald said this month in a separate piece. 

The other four dairies will go on trial in September, according to the news report. 

For in-depth nutrient coverage, check out Water Online's Nutrient Removal Solution Center. 

Image credit: "El Chaupi Organic Dairy Farm," © 2007 jrubinic, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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