The Environmental Protection Agency needs to examine wastewater discharges from meat and poultry plants to determine whether it should impose new requirements on them, environmental groups said Tuesday.

In a letter announcing their intent to sue the agency, Food & Water Watch and five other groups said EPA has violated the Clean Water Act by not conducting annual reviews “since at least 2016” of effluent and pretreatment guidelines for the Meat and Poultry Products Industry category.

“More than 8 billion chickens, 100 million hogs, and 30 million beef cattle are processed each year in more than 5,000 slaughterhouses across the country,” the groups said in a news release. “An estimated 4,700 of these are currently allowed to discharge processed wastewater directly into waterways or to publicly owned treatment plants.”

A report last year from the Environmental Integrity Project, which is representing the groups, found that meat and poultry plants frequently exceeded their discharge permit limits. In their notice of intent to sue (NOITS), the groups said “small facilities” — which were exempted from guidelines updated in 2004 — are still subject to discharge limits issued more than 40 years ago.

Those facilities represent about 38% of all the facilities in the Meat and Poultry Products category.

Responding to the NOITS, the North American Meat Institute said, “Wastewater management is a constant focus in the industry and companies are always evaluating ways to limit their impact as much as possible regardless of EPA oversight. … Many have had great success, and the industry regularly works together through education and awards programs to share best practices for effective wastewater management.” NAMI represents turkey, pork, beef, lamb and veal packer processors.

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