A coalition of public interest groups have filed a petition under the Safe Drinking Water Act requesting the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take emergency action to address groundwater contamination in Morrow and Umatilla Counties. Oregon officials have been unable or unwilling to remedy widespread and dangerous nitrate contamination of critical drinking water resources for almost 30 years. The petition urges EPA to step in as Oregon forges forward with plans to permit yet another massive concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that would increase nitrogen pollution and exacerbate the current public health threat.
The petition was filed by eight organizations that are members of the Stand Up to Factory Farms coalition: Food & Water Watch, Friends of Family Farmers, WaterWatch of Oregon, Columbia Riverkeeper, Humane Voters Oregon, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Center for Food Safety, and the Center for Biological Diversity, as well as an impacted Hermiston resident.
“Oregon officials have effectively abandoned their responsibility to protect people by doubling down on their failed approach to preventing groundwater contamination, which continues to put control in the hands of the very polluters that have created a pervasive threat to human health,” said Tarah Heinzen, Senior Staff Attorney with Food & Water Watch. “The Safe Drinking Water Act fully empowers EPA to take emergency action to protect human health in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area in these circumstances, and our petition demonstrates that it must.”
Drinking water sourced from the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area (LUBGWMA) routinely exceeds safe levels of nitrate contamination, which has well-documented adverse health risks including increasing the risk of a variety of cancers, thyroid disease, “blue-baby syndrome,” and reproductive and gestational problems.
“Anybody who looks at the nitrate levels - according to the state’s own tests - would be shocked to know the state has let this go on for so long,” said Shari Sirkin, Executive Director with Friends of Family Farmers. “We don’t need another industrial mega-dairy, particularly now, with historically low milk prices and so many dairies going out of business across the country.”
“We will not sit by while industrial mega-dairies treat communities like a hazardous waste dump and sacrifice the health and safety of neighbors in the pursuit of profits,” said Amy van Saun, Senior Attorney with Center for Food Safety. “Mega-dairies externalize their significant public health and environmental costs to the people of Oregon, and if our state legislators cannot protect Oregonians, we must enforce our federal laws to protect community drinking water.”
“Raising and warehousing cows for milk and meat production — in extremely unnatural numbers for both the animals and the environment — is contaminating drinking water in Eastern Oregon,” said Cristina Stella, Senior Attorney at the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The EPA must act to stop the contamination and regulate factory farms like the industrial polluters that they are.”
Oregon reports conclude that mega-dairies and their waste disposal practices are responsible for much of the nitrate pollution in the LUBGWMA’s groundwater. Yet, Oregon officials appear to be moving towards approval of yet another massive dairy operation on the site of the failed Lost Valley Farm mega-dairy, which could threaten further contamination of the LUBGWMA.
The petition requests that EPA, at a minimum, provide a safe alternative source of drinking water for the impacted communities so long as dangerous nitrate contamination persists, further monitor drinking water quality and identify the specific entities and land-use practices causing the contamination, and issue orders necessary to begin reducing nitrate loadings and eventually return the area’s underground aquifers to a safe and drinkable condition.