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EPA Releases Proposed Revision to Meat & Poultry Effluent Guidelines

Dec. 18, 2023
Highly anticipated proposal to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants in meat and poultry plant wastewater discharge takes steps to protect small processors, but some wish EPA did more sampling even for the large establishments.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Friday released its proposal to amend regulations on meat and poultry processors’ wastewater effluent guidelines, an announcement that has been anticipated for months.

EPA has proposed amending the Meat and Poultry Products (MPP) category regulation at 40 CFR Part 432, and estimates the first option of the proposed rule alone would reduce pollutants discharged through wastewater from MPP facilities by approximately 100 million pounds per year.

The new rule would contain three options for processors. First, for existing, large, direct-discharge facilities, EPA would establish more stringent effluent limitations for nitrogen and add limits on phosphorus discharge. Furthermore, pre-treatment standards would be established for oil and grease, total suspended solids (TSS) and biochemical oxygen demand (BODs). This option would apply to approximately 850 of the 5,000 MPP establishments nationwide, the agency said.

Option 2 would include the requirements in Option 1 and add nutrient limits for indirect discharging first processors and renderers above specified production thresholds, the proposed rule summary states Option 3 would be similar to Option 2 but with lower production thresholds for the nutrient limits and conventional pollutant limits for both direct and indirect dischargers. Additionally, Option 3 would use lower production thresholds than those in the existing rule — and the proposal says that, although Option 3 includes limits for more facilities than the first two options, it is structured to avoid significant impacts to small firms. All three options would minimize impacts to small firms in terms of a cost-to-revenue ratio, EPA said.

Finally, EPA is requesting comment on a provision to the proposed rule that would require segregation and management of high-salt waste streams that are produced at some facilities, and the addition of E. coli bacteria as a regulated parameter for direct-dischargers.

EPA will accept public comment on the proposal following publication in the Federal Register, and it has scheduled public hearings on Jan. 24, 2024, and Jan. 31, 2024.

Approximately two weeks ago, Chris Young, executive director for the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP), spoke with Food Processing about these potential updates, and said in a statement by AAMP later in the day, Oct. 18, that he was happy that the EPA took small processors' challenges into consideration. Young said in the statement:

“In reviewing the new proposed EPA rule on Effluent Limitation Guidelines, AAMP is encouraged by the work EPA has done in the development of the proposed rule to protect the small business entities that make up the majority of our members. We had voiced concerns early on to EPA about the potential costs and devastating consequences of compliance for the small and very small processors. We are happy to see EPA responded to our concerns and minimized the impact of the rule on those businesses.

AAMP is still concerned about the overall impact of the rule on the industry as a whole, and we would have liked to have seen EPA spend more time gathering data from a larger sampling of plants to get a better picture of the industry as a whole, rather than testing wastewater from a handful of plants. I think it would have been beneficial for both industry and EPA if there had been more of a collaboration between the two to come up with some real common-sense answers to these wastewater concerns.

AAMP, and I believe the meat and poultry processing industry as a whole, want to be environmentally responsible and protect the waterways around us, but I think that we are all better served by working together to find treatment solutions that are economically sustainable and do not force even one business to close.”

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