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December 22, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed regulation that would revise wastewater discharge standards for facilities that process meat and poultry products. The agency said the proposal would leverage the latest pollution control technologies to cut the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants discharged to the nation’s waters by approximately 100 million pounds of pollutants per year, improving water quality for downstream communities and ecosystems.
The Clean Water Act requires EPA to revise industry-wide wastewater treatment limits—called effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs)—to keep pace with innovations in pollution control technology. The first ELGs for facilities that process meat and poultry products were issued in 1974 and the last revision was in 2004. ELGs are based on the performance of demonstrated wastewater treatment technologies, and they are intended to represent the greatest pollutant reductions that are economically achievable for an entire industry.
As EPA announced in its September 2021 Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15, the agency completed a detailed study of facilities that process meat and poultry products, leading to its decision to revise the existing effluent regulation for these facilities.
EPA says the proposed regulation would establish updated technology-based pollution limits that are affordable and achievable using existing demonstrated technologies. Additionally, implementation of these ELGs includes flexibilities to achieve the established limits using different technologies or operational strategies. This flexibility serves as an incentive for facilities and control technology vendors to develop even lower-cost compliance options.
The proposed rule contains three options. For existing direct dischargers, EPA’s preferred option would establish more stringent effluent limitations for nitrogen and, for the first time, limitations for phosphorus. The preferred option would also establish, for the first time, pretreatment standards for oil and grease, total suspended solids, and biochemical oxygen demand. The preferred regulatory option would apply to approximately 850 of the 5,000 MPP facilities nationwide.
The proposal contains two additional options on which EPA is requesting public comment. These options would apply effluent limitations to additional direct and indirect dischargers. The two additional options would also establish pretreatment standards for nitrogen and phosphorus for some of the indirect discharging facilities included in the preferred option.
In addition to the three options, EPA is requesting comment on a provision that would require segregation and management of high-salt waste streams that are produced at some facilities, as well as the addition of E. coli bacteria as a regulated parameter for direct dischargers.
EPA will be accepting public comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days upon its publication in the Federal Register. EPA will conduct two public hearings on the proposed rule—an online-only hearing will be held Jan. 24, 2024 and an in-person hearing at EPA headquarters will be held Jan. 31, 2024.
Learn more about EPA’s proposed Meat and Poultry Products Effluent Guidelines.
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