Mountaire sewage violations scrutinized

A series of sewage violations by the Mountaire Corporation were again on the Selbyville Town Council’s agenda at its March 7 meeting. But council members opted not to immediately assess the poultry company the usual administrative fines for the violations, instead seeking to make sure the town’s method of determining violations is uniform before determining the fines.

Mountaire representatives freely admitted to a number of violations of sewage limits in both January and February, noting that the two months are traditionally “heavy” periods for the company and chalking some of the problems up to working out the kinks in new systems. But they objected to characterizations that the company was as significantly in violation as indicated by town records.

Instead, the representatives explained, the violations showing on the town’s books were largely the result of a new method of tracking, using the town’s daily testing logs directly and individually rather than relying upon the averages on monthly discharge monitoring report (DMR) as an indicator that deeper scrutiny was needed.

Previously, the company’s DMR was examined by the town for violations of the maximum allowed average over the full month, with testing by the company Monday through Thursday. (Tests were not and are not performed on Fridays due to a 48- to 72-hour testing period, Mountaire representatives explained.)

Only when the DMR showed a violation were the town’s daily logs checked to see when the violation occurred and develop a more detailed report on the problem for town assessment.

But during a recent review of the policy, the lack of testing on Fridays was pointed to as a possible loophole that could be abused by shunting high output levels to a day that was not monitored, according to Town Council Member G. Frank Smith. As a result, the town moved to increase accountability by relying simply on the daily logs maintained by the town to indicate violations.

Mountaire representatives argued that, while the loophole did exist and could be manipulated, it was not one which the company would abuse. They said the company’s output on Fridays is, in fact, traditionally lower than that on other weekdays. And, according to the DMR, the average output of the plant across a full month did not exceed the established limits.

Only twice previously, Mountaire representatives said, had the plant remained within limits on the DMR but failed to remain within the limits according to the town’s logs. In both cases, the violations were on a Friday.

Five violations of average daily limits for biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) were recognized by the company for January, as opposed to the 23 various violations found by the town upon examination of its daily sewage logs that included daily measurements on Fridays. (The plant found two violations in February, one due to operator error.)

Smith acknowledged the change in monitoring methods and agreed it might be a factor in how many violations had been recorded in January. He agreed to discuss the matter with the town’s sewage department and bring back to council a recommendation on uniform monitoring procedures and administrative fee assessments for violations.

In addition to pointing out ongoing efforts to balance chemicals in the plant’s new systems, Mountaire representatives again emphasized the traditionally heavy use of the plant in January and February, suggesting violations were less likely to recur in other months of the year.

Moreover, they said, January and February of 2005 had been particularly heavy months for the plant — part of an apparent trend of increased business.

“This is an up beat for us,” they said, prompting Mayor Clifton Murray to reply, “If it’s an up beat for you, it’s an up beat for us.”

Efforts to reduce water use at the plant have proven effective, representatives said, with an estimated water use of 3.35 gallons per bird processed — “unheard of in the industry” — versus the national average of 6 or more gallons per bird. (One side effect of the water-reduction systems is a higher concentration of pollutants in wastewater, resulting in a higher BOD and increased likelihood of sewage violations.)

The company also announced that it is making additional efforts to control odor from the plant, installing a central misting system to be used to damp down odors when temperatures rise above 60 degrees. The misting system is being extended to also cover trailers delivering the company’s chickens, but it has yet to be tested due to continued cold weather.