Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen fined for wastewater violation

Farm Forum

Northern Beef Packers has been fined $7,315 after wastewater escaped from a breached wall at one of its treatment lagoons and flowed into Moccasin Creek.

The discharge occurred for at least three days in April, according to a notice of violation from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

While the release was unacceptable, the strength of the pollutants in the wastewater were low enough not to pose a danger to the creek, said Kelli Buscher, administrator of the DENR Surface Water Quality Program.

“Thankfully, it was not at a level that could cause problems to the creek,” she said.

The plant has been slaughtering few cattle compared to its capacity and much of the wastewater is wash water from cleaning, she said.

The lagoons are about 3 miles south of Aberdeen and 2 miles south of the beef plant.

Northern Beef, which began slaughtering cattle in October, laid off 108 employees in April because of a lack of working capital to buy and process cattle.

The discharge from the breached lagoon was from April 9 to April 11, according to the notice of violation. Northern Beef hired divers to plug the pipes inside the lagoon.

The exact date the lagoon began leaking is not known. The flow of water was discovered by a city of Aberdeen employee, who then notified Northern Beef of the problem, said Buscher.

The breach was caused by a broken valve, according to the report. The valve leak eroded the earthen dike, creating two large holes where wastewater could escape. The wastewater flowed into a ditch and then into Moccasin Creek, according to the report.

This is the third time that Northern Beef Packers has been issued a notice of violation for wastewater problems.

·In December, the city of Aberdeen issued a notice of violation for multiple infractions, including failure to monitor pollutants and failure to operate its treatment lagoons properly.

·In February, city officials issued a $1,000 fine and a compliance order because the plant had not installed sampling and flow monitoring equipment.

The DENR investigation of the April lagoon breach showed Northern Beef still is out of compliance in a number of areas. These include:

·The plant does not have a Class II certified wastewater operator in charge of the wastewater treatment system.

·Not all of the aerators in the lagoon are operational. In the settlement agreement, Northern Beef must make all nine aerators functional.

·Northern Beef continues to have problems with its wastewater sampling procedures and must submit a detailed sampling plan to the city of Aberdeen and follow it.

Northern Beef had no comment on the DENR notice of violation, said A.J. Munger, director of new business development.

Buscher said the samples of the water entering Moccasin Creek showed some of the pollutants were within the range allowed for discharge by the city of Aberdeen wastewater treatment plant, while others were not.

For example, two of the major pollutants measured by the DENR – total suspended solids and ammonia – exceeded the maximum levels for the Aberdeen plant.

The biochemical oxygen demand, a measure of the degree of water pollution, was within limits. All pollutant levels were lower than the federal stream damage standards set for Moccasin Creek, Buscher said.

“The issue is not just the level of pollutants,” she said. “Northern Beef does not have a discharge permit. It should not be discharging water – even if it were pristine – into the creek.”

Pete Hesla, Aberdeen Wastewater Treatment Plant superintendent, said the Aberdeen treatment plant has been treating beef plant wastewater for more than a month.

The wastewater the city plant has been receiving has been very diluted and has not required a lot of treatment, he said. The water has already been pretreated at Northern Beef.

“If they (Northern Beef) were slaughtering 600 cattle a day, every day, that would be different,” Hesla said. “Right now, there is a lot of wash water that is going into the lagoon.”

While the breach has been repaired, there is still more work to be done on the dike. The settlement agreement requires Northern Beef to complete temporary stabilization of the dikes by Friday. Repairs recommended by a professional engineer shall be completed by July 31. The dikes must be permanently stabilized by Oct. 1, according to the settlement agreement.

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