Perdue Farms Inc., the Maryland-based poultry giant, was fined $80,000 and has agreed to upgrade a processing plant in Virginia to settle charges of water pollution.
The settlements were with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. They stem from alleged water pollution from wastewater at Perdue's Accomac, Va., processing plant, according to the government agencies.
Perdue's agreement with the state to upgrade its plant is subject to approval by the Virginia Water Control Board on June 19.
"These are significant violations," said Dr. David Gussman, a senior enforcement specialist for the Virginia DEQ.
Perdue is accused of discharging up to 30 times the permitted amount of ammonia into a nearby creek because of equipment malfunctions. Other violations, which took place last summer and fall, include having too many suspended solids in its wastewater and allowing improperly treated wastewater from the plant to discharge into Parker Creek.
The Salisbury-based poultry company did not admit to liability for the alleged violations, according to an EPA announcement of the agreement earlier this week.
Perdue did not return calls for comment.
Roy Seneca, a spokesman for the EPA, said the $80,000 federal penalty is needed to "account for the risk to the environment and any economic benefit for the company for not taking adequate measures to prevent the violations."
Privately held Perdue has annual sales of more than $2.7 billion, according to its Web site.
The company has a permit to discharge wastewater that has been treated at its Accomac plant into Parker Creek, which empties into Metompkin Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Seneca said Parker Creek is already an impaired waterway, which means it does not meet water quality standards set by the state.
Perdue has been diverting its wastewater into a holding pond to keep it from going into Parker Creek and further violating environmental regulations. But the EPA and DEQ found during an inspection last summer that Perdue was running out of space in the holding pond, and over Labor Day weekend millions of gallons of wastewater that hadn't been properly treated went into the creek, according to the EPA.
The EPA said the poultry company fixed that problem and has been monitoring its wastewater treatment plant.
"After we did the inspection, basically we issued an order for Perdue to return to compliance, and Perdue promptly did so," Seneca said.
If the Virginia water board approves the agreement for changes at the plant, the upgrades must begin by July 1 and be completed by Jan. 1, 2005, according to DEQ documents.
Gussman said the upgrades would reduce the amount of organic waste - waste that has chemicals and proteins that come from food processing - going from the chicken processing plant into Parker Creek.