CUMBERLAND, Va. (WRIC) – In a recent press release, the nonprofit watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation Now shared detailed reports from Environmental Protection Agency facilities that show a variety of violations from the Envigo dog breeding facility in Cumberland County.
Envigo’s practices have drawn controversy over the past two years for their mistreatment of the dogs they breed, particularly beagles, which are used for research purposes. Now there are reports of EPA violations for contaminants in their facility’s water systems.
Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SEAN), said in the press release that these breaches of EPA standards represent violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.
One of the reports showed violations of EPA standards for nitrogen levels in the facility’s wastewater. 8News inquired about the origin of this excess nitrogen, but the relevant agencies could not speak to a specific cause.
According to the report, this sewage could impact the surrounding watershed, including the James River, Deep Creek, Muddy Creek and Maxey Mill Creek.
These nitrogen levels were non-compliant with the EPA in eight of the last twelve quarters, with two of those quarters designated as “significant/Category 1 non-compliance”. This is a category triggered by the EPA system due to excessive levels of contaminants.
The report states that during the period from April to the end of June 2021, Envigo’s Cumberland facility had wastewater, at its point of discharge from the treatment system, with 467% of the acceptable level of nitrogen. . These levels fell to 71% of the acceptable level and rose again, in the period from October to December 2021, to 157%.
A second report showed that the facility’s chlorination treatment system had been breached in nine of the last twelve quarters. These violations have varied over the past three years and have included failure to meet EPA standards for arsenic, lead and copper, inorganic chemicals and nitrates.
In an email to 8News, Roy Seneca of the EPA’s Region 3 Press Office said these violations were reported to the EPA by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
Linda Scarborough, public information officer for VDH’s West Region, in which the Cumberland Envigo facility is located, said the sewage violations were actually the responsibility of the Quality Department. environment (DEQ).
However, the VDH said there are two wells supplying water to the Envigo facility, both of which have contamination issues.
“The yellow well (well #2) is currently offline due to high MPNs and positive E-coli sample results. The red well (well #1) has high nitrate levels but is currently in compliance,” Scarborough said in an email. “Water from the wells supplies the office building and the kennels where animal testing takes place for several human products.”
E-coli is an often harmless bacteria, but some strains can cause serious illness. According to the United States Geological Survey, of E-coli, “its presence provides direct evidence of fecal contamination from warm-blooded animals.”
Scarborough went on to say that these wells may have been contaminated in a variety of ways, but the Office of Drinking Water is currently unable to determine the exact source of contamination as they have not carried out a thorough investigation. .
According to the VDH, the water system supplying the facility, which includes the two wells, was recently sold to a new owner, who has since hired an engineer to help resolve these water quality issues. This could involve drilling new wells to replace the two that are contaminated.
Mark Hubbard, Senior Vice President of Advocacy for McGuireWoods Consulting and spokesperson for Envigo, said in a statement to 8News regarding these reports: “As part of our routine monitoring program for these systems, we are communicating ourselves- same results to the appropriate government agencies. These results periodically call for necessary adjustments and improvements.
“We are currently working with an engineering company to implement upgrades to our systems. This work is performed under the guidelines and oversight of the Virginia Department of Health.
Hubbard also said that one of Envigo’s top priorities is the health and safety of its employees and their animals.
Regarding the wastewater non-compliance, Heather Diehls, water monitoring and compliance manager for the DEQ’s Piedmont regional office, provided further information in an email to 8News. Diehls said the Envigo dog breeding facility has a Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit to discharge sewage directly into Maxey Mill Creek.
Maxey Mill Creek empties into Deep Creek, which joins the James River above Richmond.
She explained that the excessive level of nitrogen noted in these reports was Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN), a nutrient that represents the total concentration of organic nitrogen and ammonia in the wastewater.
“Under certain stream conditions (temperature and pH), ammonia can have effects on aquatic life,” Diehls said. “Excess nutrients in ambient waterways can also promote algal blooms.”
Diehls went on to say, “On release monitoring reports from September and November 2021, the facility reported elevated levels of TKN. In response to permit overruns, the facility hired an engineering firm to help optimize wastewater treatment. The DEQ issued warning letters to the facility for permit exceedances. There have been no permit overruns since November 2021.”
Asked about the DEQ’s response to these types of violations, Diehls explained, “Not all permit exceedances that the EPA designates as ‘significant/Category 1 noncompliance’ meet the DEQ’s criteria for a execution. The permit exceedances reported by this facility do not currently meet the DEQ’s criteria for enforcement action.