Cargill Ottumwa Plant Had Long History of Clean Water Act Violations Prior To March 3 Spill

Cargill’s Ottumwa Plant Had Long Pattern of Clean Water Act Violations and Other Noncompliance Problems Before 20,000 Gallon Spill Earlier This Week

Both the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) have documented previous Clean Water Act violations but failed to crack down to prevent water pollution impact on Des Moines River

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) members in Southeast Iowa say that state and federal records show a troubling pattern of Clean Water Act violations and other non-compliance issues going back years at a Cargill meatpacking plant in Ottumwa that spilled 20,000 gallons of toxic waste into a sewer line running into the Des Moines river earlier this week.

The plant slaughters 18,500 hogs a day, but has plans to expand to processing more than 26,000 hogs per day, and its process waste water is a giant mixture of blood, guts, manure, chemicals, and other toxins.  An online database maintained by the EPA, available at:, shows that the meatpacking plant has routinely either out of compliance with the conditions of its Clean Water Act permit, or is failing to self-report its monthly testing results, since October of 2010, including 8 out of the last 12 quarters.

The violations are frequently for exceeding nitrogen, ammonia, Ph, and chlorine limitations in the process wastewater the plant discharges into the Des Moines River.  For example, during one 3-month reporting period from January to March 2013, Cargill’s Ottumwa plant exceeded nitrogen and ammonia levels by 240% in its treated waste water.

The Iowa DNR issued a Notice of Violation letter for exceeding Clean Water act limitations on April 19, 2011.

Failure to report monthly test results may indicate larger problems at the plant, which was briefly shut down last month due to a break in a nearby municipal water main. The spill March 3 occurred when a frozen backup pipe broke after a main system failure.

Iowa CCI members fighting three proposed factory farms near the Appanoose and Davis County line say that Monday’s 20,000 gallon spill into the Des Moines River is more proof that Southeast Iowa doesn’t need any more factory farms and out-of-state corporate agribusinesses polluting Iowa waterways.

“If Cargill can’t handle the amount of hogs they are slaughtering now without spilling toxic waste and polluting our water, then they shouldn’t be allowed to build more factory farms and accelerate production on the kill floor when that will only make the problem worse,” said Jim Ealy, an Iowa CCI member from Unionville who has organized dozens of members of his rural neighborhood community to stand up and fight back against Cargill’s proposed new factory farms.

Ealy and other local-area CCI members have protested twice at Cargill’s Ottumwa plant in the last 8 weeks, including at the on-site offices of Cargill subsidiary, Parks Finishing.  The group has also held large-group meetings with the Davis County supervisors and the Iowa DNR.  Community members have also met with local-area legislators at community forums in Ottumwa and at the state capitol in Des Moines.

Last week, the Cargill facility in nearby Eddyville spread thousands of gallons of Ag-lime by-product and waste water onto a snow-covered farm field, which will likely runoff when temperatures rise later this week alongside potential rain, but DNR and Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship officials say the application of process waste onto snow-covered fields was legal, even though Cargill’s Eddyville facility did not have a current, up-to-date certification to apply this waste product on farm ground.

In November of 2013, a Maschhoff Pork Sow Unit outside of Keosauqua in Van Buren county also had a manure spill of several thousand gallons into a tributary of the Des Moines river.  Maschhoff agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and make significant engineering changes to their facility in an attempt to avoid a citizen lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act by Iowa CCI members and allies the Environmental Integrity Project and the Humane Society.

“There’s no question factory farms pose a huge threat to our air, water, and quality of life and there have been several impacts to the Des Moines in the last few months that highlight just how dangerous factory farms really are,” Ealy said.

“We call on the DNR and EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act, hold Cargill accountable for this spill, and crack down on factory farm pollution.  We also call on Cargill and Parks Finishing to cancel their plans to build more factory farms in Southeast Iowa,” Ealy continued.

There have been more than 600 documented manure spills since 2003 and Iowa currently has at least 630 polluted waterways.  Some researchers have found that manure from factory farm lagoons is leaking at more than twice the rate allowed by law, and it’s anyone’s guess how many times rainwater, floods, or melting snow have run freshly spread liquid manure off of farmland and into rivers, lakes, and streams.

Factory farm expansion is also up, with more than 900 of the state’s 8,500 factory farms being built since January 1, 2012.   A conservative estimate finds that Iowa’s 21 million hogs produce between 5 and 10 billion gallons of toxic manure every year.