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Nessel files lawsuit against West Michigan CAFO for environmental violations

A Michigan hog farmer injects liquid manure into his field.
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio
A Michigan hog farmer injects liquid manure into his field.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel hasfiled suit against a dairy farming operation she says has repeatedly “thumbed its nose” at environmental regulations.

Slater Farms is a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in rural West Michigan. According to the Attorney General’s office, it collectively owns and manages CAFOs with more than 1,500 mature dairy cows and 400 cattle. Every year, those operations produce about 8.9 million gallons of liquid waste and 1,500 tons of solid waste.

As a result, Slater Farms spreads that waste on hundreds of acres of farmland in Muskegon and Newaygo counties. The Attorney General’s office, in its lawsuit on behalf of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), says it’s done so improperly, threatening local and regional water quality.

“CAFO waste contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and contaminants like E. coli,” Nessel’s office said in a statement. “When the waste is improperly managed, the nitrogen and phosphorous can harm soil quality and plants on land, while the pollution can kill fish and other aquatic life in water. Humans can also become sick after recreating in water with E. coli or eating fish or shellfish from contaminated water. Pets have died after ingesting water contaminated with algae blooms caused by this contamination.”

Nessel said Slater Farms first came on EGLE’s radar in 2012 for operating without a permit. It eventually acquired one, but “the facility repeatedly and continuously violated that permit, and improperly managed the vast amounts of animal waste produced by its feeding operations,” Nessel said.

“Slater’s improper handling of this waste threatens nearby waters of the state with serious environmental and public health harms.”

EGLE turned to Nessel to enforce Slater’s alleged continuing violations of clean water laws, as well as a prior consent agreement with the state. “Slater Farms has not yet fully complied with that administrative settlement and repeatedly and continuously violated its permit by improperly managing the vast amounts of animal waste produced by its feeding operations, leading the State to file this lawsuit,” Nessel’s office said.

The lawsuit was filed in Ingham County Circuit Court. Slater Farms could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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