Washington Dairy Farm Sued for Waste Disposal Violations

In a filing on Tuesday in the Eastern District of Washington, three non-profit organizations, CARE, Friends of Toppenish Creek, and the Center for Food Safety, brought suit against Sunnyside Dairy, LLC for improper cow manure disposal in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The case, brought under the RCRA’s citizen suit provision, contends that the dairy farm’s practices are causing groundwater contamination.

The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant operation, located in Sunnyside, Wash., has committed two violations of the RCRA: imminent and substantial endangerment and illegal open dumping. The complaint averred that Sunnyside has “at least 6,550 animals, including at least 5,700 milking cows, 700 dry cows, and 150 heifers.” The facility “produces approximately 40,000,000 gallons of liquid waste and 20,000 tons of solid waste annually.”

Sunnyside allegedly holds the liquid waste generated by its bovine herd in manure storage lagoons until it is applied to fields as fertilizer. The eight storage lagoons, the complaint asserted, “are unlined or inadequately lined, and are without an appropriate leak detection system to prevent the downward migration and seepage of wastewater into groundwater.”

Because of the facility’s location, the complaint explained, the resulting seepage flows into a domestic water supply. The illegal discharge has been going on for more than 14 years, since the storage reservoirs were put into operation, the plaintiffs argued.

Additionally, Sunnyside has and continues to over-apply manure “above agronomic rates,” rendering the manure “incapable of serving its intended purpose as a fertilizer,” and “caus[ing] irreparable injury to the environment, contaminating soils and groundwater with excessively high levels of nitrates and other pollutants,” the complaint claimed. The plaintiffs contended that soil samples submitted to the Washington Department of Agriculture reveal elevated levels of both nitrates and phosphorus, with the former measuring above the federal maximum concentration level (MCL).

Ingesting nitrates at heightened levels, the complaint stated, interferes with “the oxygen carrying capacity of blood, potentially resulting cyanosis and, at higher levels, asphyxia.” High nitrate levels also threaten babies, pregnant women, and cause thyroid conditions and cancer, the plaintiffs argued. For Sunnyside’s transgressions, the plaintiffs seek declaratory relief establishing that Sunnyside has violated the RCRA, and injunctive relief, directing Sunnyside to modify its practices.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Offices of Andrea K. Rodgers, the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C., Terrell Marshall Law Group PLLC, and the Center For Food Safety.