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Prairie Farms Dairy Northeast Iowa Cheese Plant Faces Wastewater Discharge Penalties

Nov. 30, 2023
Bacteria, ammonia and other pollutant levels from the plant near Luana, Iowa, exceeded Dept. of Natural Resources limits allowed.

Prairie Farms Dairy has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and upgrade the wastewater treatment system at its cheese plant near Luana, Iowa, by 2030, in conjunction with violations brought against it by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), according to local news reports.

The cheese plant (technically considered a part of Monona, Iowa) has been accused repeatedly of failing to properly treat the wastewater it discharges into the Turkey River watershed — with DNR records stating that limits for a variety of contaminants and pollutants had been breached on a routine basis since 2018. March 2022 wastewater tests showed bacteria levels more than 40 times higher than allowed by DNR, the report said, and August and September 2023 tests produced ammonia levels more than three times higher than allowed.

The report said the facility has installed equipment in an effort to remedy the issue, but it clearly hasn’t helped, and a DNR specialist told the news outlet that the plant was exceeding its wastewater treatment system’s capacity.

The facility was expanded approximately eight years ago under the ownership of Swiss Valley Farms, which merged in 2017 with Illinois-based Prairie Farms, but the DNR specialist could not say that the expansion was the root cause of the issue. The news report did not receive comment from Prairie Farms on the issue, but it was noted that the company was working on plans to solve the issue with the DNR.

Construction of upgrades to the treatment system was required by the DNR order to begin by August 2028, and the company is required to employ an experienced and certified wastewater operator by then as well.

This isn’t the plant’s first run-in over pollution problems in recent years, as it was fined $100,000 and agreed to invest $1.4 million to resolve more than a decade of excessive air pollution problems stemming from the unapproved removal of an emissions control device in 2004, the news report said.

About the Author

Andy Hanacek | Senior Editor

Andy Hanacek has covered meat, poultry, bakery and snack foods as a B2B editor for nearly 20 years, and has toured hundreds of processing plants and food companies, sharing stories of innovation and technological advancement throughout the food supply chain. In 2018, he won a Folio:Eddie Award for his unique "From the Editor's Desk" video blogs, and he has brought home additional awards from Folio and ASBPE over the years. In addition, Hanacek led the Meat Industry Hall of Fame for several years and was vice president of communications for We R Food Safety, a food safety software and consulting company.

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