CUMBERLAND, Va. (WRIC) – In a recent press release, nonprofit monitoring group Stop Animal Exploitation Now shared detailed Environmental Protection Agency facility reports showing a variety of violations from the Envigo kennel in Cumberland County.
Envigo’s practices have sparked controversy over the past two years for mistreating the dogs they breed, particularly beagles, which are used for research purposes. Now there are reports of EPA violations for pollutants in her facility’s water systems.
Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SEAN), said in the press release that these failures to meet EPA standards are violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act.
One of reports demonstrated violations of EPA standards for nitrogen levels in the facility’s effluent. 8News inquired about the origin of this excess nitrogen, but authorities could not pinpoint a specific cause.
According to the report, this wastewater could affect surrounding watersheds, including the James River, Deep Creek, Muddy Creek, and Maxey Mill Creek.
These nitrogen levels have been outside of EPA compliance for eight of the last 12 quarters, with two of those quarters designated as “major non-compliance/Category 1 non-compliance.” This is a category triggered by the EPA system due to excessive levels of pollutants.
The report states that for the period from April to the end of June 2021, the effluent from Envigo’s Cumberland facility had 467% of the acceptable nitrogen content at the point of discharge from the treatment system. These values fell to 71% of the acceptable level and rose again to 157% in the period from October to December 2021.
A second report showed that the facility’s chlorine treatment system had violations in nine of the past 12 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, EPA Region 3 Press Office Roy Seneca said these violations were reported to the EPA by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
Linda Scarborough, public information officer for the Western VDH region, where the Cumberland Envigo facility is located, said the effluent violations are actually the responsibility of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
However, the VDH said there are two wells that provide water for Envigo’s plant, 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 compliant,” Scarborough said in an email. “The water from the wells feeds the office building and dog kennels where animal testing for several human products is conducted.”
E-coli is a bacterium that is often harmless, but some strains can cause serious illness. the United States Geological Survey says of E-coli, “its presence provides direct evidence of fecal contamination from warm-blooded animals.”
Scarborough went on to say that these wells could be contaminated in a number of ways, but the Office of Drinking Water is currently unable to determine the exact source of the contamination because it has not conducted an in-depth study.
According to the VDH, the facility’s water supply system, which includes the two wells, was recently sold to a new owner who has since hired an engineer to help with these water quality issues. This could involve drilling new wells to replace the two contaminated ones.
Commenting on these reports, Mark Hubbard, senior vice president of advocacy at McGuireWoods Consulting and spokesman for Envigo, said in a statement to 8News: “As part of our routine monitoring program for these systems, we ourselves report the findings to the appropriate government agencies. These results regularly lead to necessary adjustments and improvements.”
“We are currently working with an engineering firm to implement upgrades to our systems. This work is being conducted under the guidelines and oversight of the Virginia Department of Health and Human Services.”
Hubbard also said that one of Envigo’s top priorities is the health and safety of both its employees and their animals.
Regarding the effluent non-compliance, Heather Diehls, Water Compliance and Monitoring Manager for DEQ’s Piedmont regional office, provided further information in an email to 8News. Diehls said the Envigo kennel has a Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit to discharge wastewater directly into Maxey Mill Creek.
Maxey Mill Creek empties into Deep Creek, which empties into the James River upstream of Richmond.
She explained that the excess nitrogen found in these reports was total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), a nutrient that represents the total concentration of organic nitrogen and ammonia in wastewater.
“Under certain flow conditions (temperature and pH), ammonia can have effects on aquatic life,” Diehls said. “Excessive nutrients in ambient currents can also promote algal blooms. “
Diehls continued, “In the September and November 2021 discharge monitoring reports, the facility reported elevated TKN levels. In response to the permit overruns, the facility hired an engineering firm to help optimize wastewater treatment. DEQ has issued warning letters to the facility for the permit overruns. There have been no permit overruns since November 2021.”
When asked about DEQ’s response to these types of violations, Diehls stated, “Not all permit violations that EPA designates as ‘severe Category 1 non-compliance’ meet the DEQ criteria for an enforcement action. The permit violations reported by this entity do not currently meet the DEQ criteria for an enforcement action.”