An Oklahoma City compost products company is the focus of cease and desist orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry after inspectors found that water running off huge manure piles could potentially flow into the Oklahoma River. The EPA order was issued for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The inspections were conducted last month. The two companies, Murphy Products and the Oklahoma National Stockyards Co., have 30 days from June 30 to come up with a solution to present to the EPA and the state agriculture department. The compost company also cannot take deliveries of manure or sell its products because of permitting issues.
Murphy Products leases land from the Oklahoma National Stockyards Co., located southeast of the junction of interstates 44 and 40.
"There was nothing between the piles and the river," said David Bary, EPA spokesman, who said a heavy rain could result in manure running into the river.
POTENTIAL RUNOFF PROBLEMS
The Oklahoma National Stockyards Co. was named in the orders primarily because it owns the land, but isn't involved in the potential runoff problems cited in the orders.
"The stockyards itself is not an issue," said Jack Carson, state agriculture department spokesman.
Kristy Yager, spokeswoman for the City of Oklahoma City, said the stockyards contracts with the city to send its storm water runoff into the Oklahoma City sewer system.
"And then it's treated," she said.
Several attempts to reach Rob Fisher, president of the Oklahoma National Stockyards, for comment were unsuccessful. In an article from The Associated Press, Fisher said he and Murphy Products officials weren't aware of the potential pollution problem until they were contacted by the EPA.
Oklahoma Gazette raised questions July 17 about which agency monitored runoff from the stockyards area into the contaminated river. State Department of Environmental Quality officials said oversight should be done by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. State agriculture officials, however, said that was the purview of DEQ.
EPA spokesman Bary described the inspections conducted June 22 and 23 as "routine." Inspectors did not observe actual discharges, but cited the "potential discharge" problem.
Carson said the area came to the attention of agriculture department inspectors after the state health department confirmed that water exposure from the Oklahoma River, site of the May 16-17 Boathouse International Triathlon, made close to four dozen of the race's 367 competitors sick, according to findings from an Oklahoma State Department of Health investigation.
"(The inspection) definitely had something to do with the renewed interest in the Oklahoma River," Carson said.
A statement from the health department said the ill competitors showed several gastrointestinal agents, including norovirus "and a couple of different kinds of bacteria and parasites, all of which are compatible with this gastrointestinal outbreak and which could be associated with exposure to water contaminated with human or animal waste."
A heavy rain occurred shortly before the triathlon, which included a 1.5-kilometer swim.
Oklahoma health department officials said ingesting the water put the triathletes at risk.
Murphy Products president Tami Murphy said in a statement that the family-owned company, established in 1955, took immediate steps to address the concerns of the EPA and state agriculture department, including building a physical barrier " estimated to be an about 4-foot berm " between its products and surrounding property.
"We told them they had to do something," Carson said.
The company has another problem in that it does not have a permit to maintain the manure piles. Because it does not have a permit, which was required by a law passed in 2007 by the Oklahoma Legislature, Carson said that Murphy cannot accept manure or deliver composted manure.
Carson said Murphy Products personnel were not aware of the new law, and the agriculture department was also not aware Murphy Products was maintaining large manure piles, since its signage didn't mention manure.
"The fact of the matter is, we were not aware they were doing composting," he said.
The company's products were also not labeled properly, but that has been corrected.
Carson said Murphy Products has hired an engineering firm to help it come up with the plan and with the permit procedure. "(The berm) is not enough to get them a permit," Carson said, "but it's a darn good start."
The plan and schedule from Murphy Products is due July 30 and will take time to review by agriculture department engineers, Carson said, adding that applying for the permit is not a simple procedure.
"That's not something you just sit down and look at over coffee," he said.
But, he did say Murphy Products had been "exceptionally cooperative."
Yager said the two wakeboarding events that have been held on the river since the triathlon were uneventful, and there were no reports of sickness among competitors.
"(Bacterial levels) were low because it hadn't rained," she said. "It had been very dry and we were below water standards."
There are no other river events on the Oklahoma City schedule until the annual boat parade in November, Yager said. "Carol Cole Frowe