When Marshall Durbin Sr. made the decision in 1932 to add live poultry to his two retail fish stands in Birmingham, Ala., he set his fledging food company on the path to become what is today the United States’ 19th largest poultry producer. Marshall Durbin Companies, still based in Birmingham, is a family owned and operated poultry integrator whose leadership reigns passed from Marshall Durbin Jr. to his daughters Melissa and Elise in 2001.

Marshall Durbin Companies generated $326 million in sales during 2011, employs 2,000 people and operates two poultry processing plants in Jasper, Ala. and Hattiesburg, Miss. The company produces a RTC volume of 7.65 million pounds per week, with 65 percent of that production supplying the food service industry.

In 1959, Marshall Durbin constructed a processing plant northwest of Birmingham in Jasper. The plant was originally designed to handle 9,600 birds per hour. Today, the Jasper facility processes 1.2 million broilers per week, generating approximately 1 million gallons of high-strength process wastewater daily that is pretreated on-site prior to discharge into the City of Jasper municipal sewer system.

Honorable mention in Clean Water Awards  

Marshall Durbin Companies takes a proactive approach in the Jasper plant’s environmental programs, which was the key element in earning the facility a U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s 2012 Clean Water Honorable Mention Award in the pretreatment category. At first, the USPOULTRY Clean Water Awards judging team was impressed by the Jasper facility’s pretreatment plant performance as evidenced by a review of two years of process wastewater effluent data. However, the site visit by the judging team to the Jasper plant revealed a proactive attitude toward minimizing the facility’s impact that will ensure the environmental sustainability of the plant for years to come.

Pretreatment plant performance  

Wastewater pretreatment plant performance is measured by the quality of the effluent discharged. As shown in Table 1, the Jasper plant’s only permitted parameter is pounds per day of biochemical oxygen demand set at 2,500 pounds per day. The Jasper facility has only used 63 percent of the permit capacity, averaging 1,573 lb/day of BOD over the past two years. However, the company’s proactive attitude means that the Jasper plant doesn’t stop its wastewater monitoring at BOD.

James Faison, vice president of science and quality assurance, oversees the operation of the Marshall Durbin in-house laboratory in Jackson, Miss., which regularly runs not only BOD analysis on Jasper’s wastewater samples, but total suspended solid, oil and grease, total Kjeldahl nitrogen and ammonia, as well.

“We have the advantage of being able to see our wastewater results very quickly, often much sooner than if we sent our samples to an outside lab. I can be on the phone with the wastewater supervisor in Jasper immediately after results are available to discuss any issues we are having at the plant,” Faison said.

Minimizing environmental impact  

Beyond effective pretreatment system performance, the most impressive aspect of the Jasper plant’s operations in the minds of the USPOULTRY judges is the staff’s approach to minimizing environmental impacts in the handling of processing offal and potable water use as well as in the training of new environmental staff. Examples of this proactive approach include:


  • A 13-point offal vacuum system that allows for dry transport of offal directly from the production floor to offal transport trailers, bypassing the wastewater pretreatment system
  • A water reuse program focused in three areas that reduced the potable water demand of the facility by over 300,000 gallons per day
  • A training program for new environmental program employees that focuses on teaching the importance of offal removal from the wastewater stream early in the pretreatment process


Dry transport offal vacuum system  

In 1998, the Jasper plant underwent a series of major upgrades including the addition of a second processing room and substantial improvements to the facility’s fast-food deboning capabilities. At the same time, Marshall Durbin made the proactive decision to install a 13-point offal vacuum system that allows byproducts from various points on the production floor to be dry transported directly to the offal transport trailers.


“The vacuum systems allow us the ability to totally bypass the wastewater pretreatment system,” said Ronnie Eddy, the Jasper facility director of processing. “The philosophy being that if you don’t put [offal] in the water to begin with, you don’t have to spend all the resources needed to take it back out. So we now have 13 points on the processing floor, like at the neck and oil sack removal stations, on the [evisceration] line for intestines following [giblet] removal and a hopper by the reprocessing line for condemned parts, where offal can be moved by vacuum to the offal trailers. The main motivation for installing the system was to reduce the amount of soluble BOD we had entering the wastewater pretreatment plant.”

“We also vacuum our blood directly to our offal blood tanks,” added Amanda Durham, the wastewater supervisor at the Jasper facility. “So before any water hits the floor in the blood room, workers use a hose to vacuum up all the blood they can. That cuts out a tremendous amount of soluble BOD from the wastewater we have to treat.”

Water reuse  

In the mid-1990s, the Jasper plant was utilizing 1.3 million gallons of potable water each day during processing. It was at this point that a concentrated effort was made to significantly reduce the potable water demand at the plant using water reuse systems, which has reduced water demand by over 300,000 gallons per day. “Ronnie and the rest of the staff here have been instrumental in making the Marshall Durbin water conservation program work in Jasper,” said Faison. “Anytime you can cut between 300,000 gallons from your fresh water demand everyday consistently, you are really doing something.”

The water reuse program in Jasper includes a dedicated treatment system that allows effluent from the pretreatment dissolved air flotation unit to be recycled for use in backwashing and cleaning the offal screens, and for the recycling of water in the feather transport flumes. In addition, a water recycling system has been installed on the vacuum pumps that were added to the plant for the dry offal removal system. “And don’t forget,” added Faison, “all this has been done while increasing production by 15 percent.”

Pretreatment system training  

To instill the concept that being proactive is the key to effective pretreatment of poultry processing wastewater, all new environmental program employees at the Jasper plant begin their training at the first step in the pretreatment process, the offal screens. The Jasper facility utilized internally fed mechanical rotary screens in series to remove large solids (e.g., feathers, viscera and heads) from the wastewater stream prior to additional physical and chemical treatment.

“It's very important that the [new wastewater employees] know what’s coming into the system and how to deal with it initially,” said Durham. “Keeping solids out of the rest of the treatment system is the key to how well we can treat our water. The system after the screens is designed to remove soluble BOD. If we don’t control the solids up front, then the rest of the system downstream won’t work. That’s the most important thing new operators need to learn.”

Bentonite clay  

Finally, to aid in the removal of soluble BOD from the final effluent, the Jasper plant utilizes a bentonite clay system. “We were having issues holding down our soluble BOD levels on a consistent basis and tried a number of chemical programs,” Faison said. “We then tried adding bentonite clay to the system, and, once it was dialed in, it has been good at reducing our effluent BOD by 300-500 milligrams per liter. The only disadvantage has been an increase in sludge production, but once we established an approved sludge land application system with Terra Renewal the system has performed very well.”

“It’s not uncommon to see facilities that find themselves in a reactive mode when dealing with environmental issues” said the late Jim Walsh, senior research engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and one of the members of the USPOULTRY Clean Water Awards judging team. “It’s very impressive to see a facility take such a proactive approach to controlling their environmental impacts in such a way that allows them to control their own destiny.”