By JIM RUTLEDGE
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Tyson Poultry, a division of Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer, has been hit with a $2.5 million fine for violations of the Clean Water act after pleading guilty in federal court on Sept. 27 to criminal charges stemming from a chemical spill of a “highly acidic” animal feed supplement at a Missouri poultry processing plant.
The fine brings to nearly $10 million the company has paid over the past 10 years to settle violations of the Clean Water Act for chemical spills at Tyson’s plants. The latest incident occurred in May 2014 at Tyson’s Aurora, Mo., feed mill when a tank used to store a liquid feed supplement called Alimet leaked hundreds of gallons of the acidic mix into a secondary containment area.
Immediately after the spill, the company hired a contractor to remove the liquid chemical waste and transport it to Tyson’s Monett plant 22 miles away, where it was processed through the plant’s wastewater treatment system that was not designed to eliminate the toxic Alimet.
(Alimet is a widely used feed supplement that reduces the amount of nitrogen excreted by chickens and other animals. It is produced by Novus International, a St. Louis-based animal nutrition company.)
Federal officials said some of the Alimet, which generates a sulfur-like odor, then leached from the Tyson plant into the city of Monett’s municipal wastewater treatment system, where it killed off bacteria used to reduce ammonia discharges in the water. Runoffs from the treatment facility fed into the nearby Clear Creek and killed more than 104,000 fish. The city plant serves more than 10,000 area residents.
As part of the plea deal, Tyson must also conduct a sweeping court-monitored inspection of hundreds of its plants throughout the country, an action that could cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In addition, the court also ordered the Arkansas-based chicken producer to pay $500,000 to restore more than four miles of the city’s Clear Creek and waterways where the discharge wiped out all aquatic life and damaged other tributaries along the James River watershed.
Because of the company’s past history of chemical spills, the court ordered Tyson to implement a companywide EPA-approved environmental compliance program and to conduct specialized training for its more than 100,000 employees at all processing plants, hatcheries, feed mills, rendering plants and wastewater treatment facilities.
And, the court said, to ensure the company is meeting all EPA guidelines and to ensure its compliance of the Clean Water Act throughout its network of plants and facilities, Tyson was ordered to retain a third-party independent auditor to conduct the inspections and report the findings to the court and the EPA. When the inspections are completed, Tyson will be placed on two years probation.
“Our division is hopeful that the outcome of this case will help deter future violations of the Clean Water Act and keep our water supply and marine life free from pollution,” said, Jeffrey Wood, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. This agreement, he said, “will remedy environmental harm caused by the defendant’s actions, while also helping that these kinds of problems do not happen again.”
In a statement by the EPA, Larry Starfield, acting assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance, said, “Ensuring agricultural operations dispose of their waste in a lawful way is critical to protecting the health of local communities and clean water. This case will improve Tyson’s compliance with important clean water and hazardous waste laws.”
In January 2015, Tyson settled with the state of Missouri, paying it and the city of Monett $539,898 to cover the costs of the immediate cleanup and removal of the tens of thousands of dead fish and other aquatic life.
Tyson paid $4 million in 2013 to settle Clean Air Act violations on eight occasions between 2006-10 for accidental spills. In 2009, the company paid $2 million to settle claims at a Nebraska meat plant for illegally dumping animal waste into the Missouri River in 2003 and 2004. The company also paid $305,000 to settle damages from a spill in North Carolina in 2010.