The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued findings of violations to five northwest Ohio dairy farms this week.
It is ordering them to build more storage for feed and manure or to make other changes to prevent contamination of creeks and ditches.
The EPA sent orders to Manders Dairy LLC near Weston in Wood County, White Gold and Schilderink dairies in Paulding County, and Olsthoorn and Gina dairies in Van Wert County. Orders to more area dairy farms are likely to be issued later this fall.
The orders were all at dairies built by Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development Corp., a Wauseon company that specializes in helping European immigrants start dairy farms in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. EPA officials made surprise visits, starting in November, solely to farms built by Vreba-Hoff.
Patrick Kuefler, a section chief with the EPA's Region 5 office in Chicago, said inspectors found "fairly consistent flaws" in the design of dairies built by Vreba-Hoff.
Cecilia Conway, a Vreba-Hoff spokesman, said that all its dairies were designed to be in compliance with Ohio regulations and that farmers have made updates since the surprise visits.
It was unclear yesterday whether the EPA found traces of manure or cow feed in creeks or ditches near the dairies or whether inspectors simply felt, after looking over farming practices during the surprise visits, that there was a potential for such contamination.
If a large quantity of manure or cow feed gets into a creek, fish could die. But even a little cow feed, manure, or soapy residue carried into the creek by rainwater could be hard on bugs, plants, and other life there. There also is a chance children playing in the creek would get sick if they happened to get water with manure residue in their mouths.
Neither Ms. Conway nor EPA officials said they could estimate how much the changes EPA is ordering would cost farmers.
Both declined to speculate on the possibility of fines to farmers. The orders say the EPA may assess civil administrative penalties of $12,500 per day per violation, up to a maximum of $137,500.
EPA officials said they were interested primarily in farmers making the changes they ordered. At Manders Dairy, for instance, the EPA was concerned about the possibility of rainwater washing manure into a ditch from a path where cows walk.
Manders Dairy announced plans last month to expand to 1,600 cows, up from the 690 it now has.
Ms. Conway said Vreba-Hoff was disappointed that EPA inspectors did not talk to farmers after the surprise visits about what they felt was not in accordance with the rules, rather than making this week's orders their first enforcement step.