In 2002, Buckeye Egg Farm, L.P. was the largest commercial egg producer in Ohio, housing more than 12 million chickens in over 100 barns, and producing 2.6 billion eggs, or 4 percent of the nation's total egg production. Buckeye’s operations generated an equally impressive amount of chicken waste, which was spewed into the environment via exhaust fans positioned near the manure pits. At the time, Buckeye was controlled by a German citizen known as the "Chicken Baron" in Germany, where he was banned from ever again owning animals or operating in Germany after charges of cruelty to animals.
EPA testing showed emissions of organic particulate matter from Buckeye’s three Ohio facilities ranging from 550 to 700 tons per year (tpy). The particulate matter at issue here is poultry house dust, which is comprised of feces, feed, feather parts, bacteria, molds and spores, the inhalation of which causes respiratory problems. Many scientific studies have linked particulate matter to aggravated asthma, coughing, difficult or painful breathing, chronic bronchitis and decreased lung function, among other ailments.
Egg farms also emit significant quantities of ammonia, a lung irritant, which originates from the composting of stored litter. Buckeye reported emissions of ammonia from its facilities ranging from 275 to over 800 tpy. Ambient air monitoring showed significantly elevated levels of ammonia and particulates in residential areas over one kilometer away from Buckeye’s largest facility.
Several private nuisance and state enforcement lawsuits had resulted in several judgments against Buckeye over the years, but no change in operations.
The Department initially sued Buckeye in 2003 for failing to comply with a Clean Air Act (CAA) Order that required it to conduct air emissions testing at the three facilities. This was followed by an Application for a Writ of Attachment on the various Buckeye properties owned by an individual, who had changed his residence to Germany and was poised to sell the facilities to another company. In 2003, these claims, together with additional CAA claims alleging Buckeye’s failure to obtain Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits required in connection with various facility modifications, were settled in a Consent Decree.
Consent decree imposed stringent emissions testing and control requirements for both particulate matter and ammonia, and further imposed a civil penalty of $880,598. The buyer company, Ohio Fresh Eggs, agreed as part of its purchase agreement to fulfill the injunctive relief obligations imposed under the Consent Decree.
This was the first PSD case brought against an egg laying facility.