WASHINGTON – A federal jury today found House of Raeford Farms Inc., the owner and operator of a poultry slaughtering and processing facility located in Raeford, North Carolina, guilty of 10 counts of knowing violations of the Clean Water Act.
House of Raeford allowed plant employees to bypass the facility’s pretreatment system and send its untreated wastewater directly to the city of Raeford’s wastewater treatment plant, without notifying city officials. In addition, House of Raeford failed to prevent employees from sending thousands of gallons of wastewater into a pretreatment system that did not have the capacity to adequately treat the wastewater before it was discharged to the city plant. The untreated wastewater that was discharged directly to the city plant was contaminated with waste from processing operations, including blood, grease and body parts from slaughtered turkeys. A House of Raeford former employee admitted that the facility would continue to “kill turkeys” despite being warned that the unauthorized bypasses had an adverse impact on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The city plant was responsible for treating industrial, commercial and residential wastewater before it was discharged to Rockfish Creek in Hoke County.
The bypasses and failure to report them violated House of Raeford’s pretreatment permit as well as the city’s sewer use ordinance. Many of the bypasses took place while House of Raeford was subject to a consent order with the city that required it to construct a new pretreatment system and comply with all requirements of its pretreatment permit. A number of the bypasses were recorded in log books kept by House of Raeford Inc. wastewater operators, and were never revealed to the city.
“The convictions today demonstrate the Justice Department’s commitment to prosecuting those who knowingly violate pretreatment permits and the Clean Water Act by releasing untreated and contaminated wastewater to municipal wastewater treatment plants,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The violations here are especially egregious and will not be tolerated. The evidence showed that House of Raeford allowed overflows of untreated wastewater to bypass a critical part of their pretreatment system. Many of these bypasses were not disclosed to the city of Raeford, and placed an additional burden on the city’s wastewater treatment plant.”
“Publicly owned wastewater treatment plants must be protected from companies that cut corners by discharging wastewater illegally,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge of of EPA Region 4, which covers the southeast United States including North Carolina. “The defendants in this case deliberately discharged turkey parts, blood and grease into the wastewater plant for over 16 months, bypassing treatment. Today’s conviction sends the message that the American public will not tolerate companies putting profit ahead of compliance.”
“Families and businesses depend on having clean water. Our SBI agents will continue to work closely with their federal partners to protect the safety of our water supply and hold polluters accountable,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.
House of Raeford Inc. faces a maximum fine of $500,000 or twice the gain or loss resulting from the offenses, whichever is greater, per count. Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 28, 2012.
The case was prosecuted by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and was investigated by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division and North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.