New map highlights slaughterhouse water pollution

Media Contacts

Interactive tool released as EPA decides whether to update decades-old slaughterhouse standards

Environment America Research and Policy Center

BOSTON — Slaughterhouses continue to dump high volumes of pollution into the nation’s waterways. A new interactive map released by Environment America Research & Policy Center on Wednesday highlights the risks to health and the environment posed by 382 meat and poultry processing plants across the country. Several facilities on the map are located in the Mississippi River watershed, where pollution flows are causing a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is currently larger than the state of Connecticut.

“Despoiling our water to process our food makes no sense,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Yet our new map shows that slaughterhouses are pouring pollution into rivers, lakes and streams across the country.” 

Drawing on data from both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the new map shows that 219 slaughterhouses and rendering facilities dumped more than 28 million pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus directly into the nation’s rivers and streams in 2019.  

Wastewater from such facilities can also contain fecal bacteria, pathogens and blood, as well as nitrates. These slaughterhouse pollutants contribute to a wide range of threats to the environment and human health — including dead zones, drinking water contamination, toxic algal outbreaks, fish kills and fecal bacteria that can make swimmers sick. 

The map also shows 163 slaughterhouses that do not dump pollution directly into waterways but can threaten clean water in other ways – including by sending their waste to sewage treatment plants or spreading pollution on land where it may run off into nearby streams and rivers. In Delaware, for example, slaughterhouse wastewater sprayed on fields polluted local drinking water wells with nitrates. In Illinois, wastewater pumped from a slaughterhouse lagoon led to a massive fish kill on the Illinois River.

Moreover, huge processing plants are also driving the proliferation of industrial-scale livestock operations, which threaten our waterways with millions of tons of manure

While the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to update pollution control standards as technology advances, the agency has not strengthened those standards for meat and poultry processing plants since 2004. Environment America and several other organizations are now in court to compel the agency to do so.

“We reject the notion that water pollution is the price we must pay for poultry or meat,” Rumpler said. “We can and must do better, and it’s high time for the EPA to curb slaughterhouse pollution, as required by the Clean Water Act.”