CUMBERLAND, Va. (WRIC) – In a recent press release, non-profit watchdog group Stop Animal Exploitation Now shared Detailed Facility Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency which show a variety of violations coming from the Envigo dog breeding facility in Cumberland County.
Envigo’s practices have sparked controversy over the past two years for its mistreatment of the dogs it breed, specifically 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 failures to comply with 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 excessive nitrogen and was informed that it was due to increased kennel trough cleaning and adjustments to the treatment process.
According to the report, this wastewater could impact the surrounding watershed including the James River, Deep Creek, Muddy Creek and Maxey Mill Creek.
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These nitrogen levels were out of EPA compliance in eight out of the last twelve quarters, with two of those quarters designated as “Significant/Category 1 Noncompliance”. This is a category triggered by the EPA system due to the 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 through December 2021, to 157%.
A second report showed the facility’s chlorination treatment system had violations in nine of the last twelve quarters. These violations varied over the course of the last three years and included failure to comply with EPA standards for arsenic, lead and copper, inorganic chemicals and nitrates.
In an email to 8News, Roy Seneca from the EPA Region 3 press office said that these violations were reported to the EPA by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
Linda Scarborough, Public Information Officer for the VDH Western Region, said that questions regarding wastewater violations would have to be answered by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
However, the VDH did say that there are two wells that supply water to Envigo’s facility, both of which have contamination issues.
“The Yellow well (Well No.2) is currently offline due to high MPNs and positive E-coli sample results. The Red well (Well No.1) has high levels of nitrate, but it is currently in compliance,” Scarborough said in an email. “The water from the wells feeds the office building and dog kennels where animal testing occurs for multiple human products.”
Scarborough went on to say that there are a variety of ways in which these wells may have become contaminated, but the Office of Drinking Water is not currently able to determine the exact source of contamination, as they have not carried out an in-depth study.
According to the VDH, the water system feeding the facility, which includes the two wells, was recently sold to a new owner, who has since hired an engineer to help with these water quality problems. This could involve the drilling of 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 concerning these reports, “As part of our routine monitoring program for these systems, we self-report results to appropriate government agencies. These results periodically prompt necessary adjustments and improvements.”
“We are currently working with an engineering firm to implement upgrades to our systems. This work is being done within the guidelines and oversight of the Virginia Department of Health.”
Hubbard also said that one of the top priorities for Envigo is the health and safety of both its employees and their animals.
Regarding wastewater non-compliance, Heather Diehls, Water Compliance and Monitoring Manager for the Piedmont Regional Office of the DEQ, provided further information in an email to 8News. Diehls said that the Envigo dog breeding facility has a Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit to discharge wastewater directly into Maxey Mill Creek.
Maxey Mill Creek flows into Deep Creek, which joins with the James River upstream of Richmond.
She explained that the excessive level of nitrogen noted in these reports was Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN), a nutrient, which represents the total concentration of organic nitrogen and ammonia in the wastewater.
“Under certain stream conditions (temperature and pH) ammonia may cause impacts to aquatic life,” said Diehls. “Excessive nutrients in ambient streams may also promote algae blooms. “
Diehls went on to say, “On the September and November 2021 discharge monitoring reports, the facility reported elevated levels of TKN. In response to the permit exceedances, the facility engaged an engineering firm to assist them with optimizing wastewater treatment. DEQ issued Warning Letters to the facility for the permit exceedances. There have been no permit exceedances since November 2021.”
When asked about the DEQ’s response to these types of violations, Diehls explained, “Not all permit exceedances that EPA labels as ‘Significant/Category 1 Noncompliance’ meets DEQ criteria for an enforcement action. The permit exceedances reported by this facility do not currently meet DEQ criteria for an enforcement action.”
Editor’s note: 3/24/22: In an earlier version of this story, we incorrectly stated in which VDH region Envigo’s facility is located.