Meat-packing giant Tyson Foods is agreeing to pay a near-$4-million federal civil penalty for the mishandling of chemicals at its plants in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.
Ben Washburn is spokesman for the EPA region covering the four states.
“Between 2006 and 2010 in communities throughout EPA Region Seven, Tyson had a series of Clean Air Act violations related to the release of anhydrous ammonia,” Washburn explains.
The EPA says the anhydrous ammonia releases led to property damage, multiple injuries, and the death of a worker at a plant in Kansas.
“The size of the penalty is related to the scope of the infractions and also to the seriousness of the violations,” Washburn says.
The settlement includes Tyson operations in four Nebraska cities: Dakota City, Lexington, Madison and Omaha, as well as plants in Council Bluffs and Sioux City, Iowa.
Washburn says the company will take some other steps along with paying the $3.95-million dollar penalty.
“In addition to paying the penalty, Tyson will complete a supplemental environmental project valued at least 300-thousand dollars,” Washburn says. “And this project is going to purchase anhydrous ammonia-related emergency equipment for fire departments in eight different communities where the company’s operations are located.”
The environmental project includes three Nebraska cities, with more than $16,000 for Dakota City, almost $18,000 for Omaha and nearly $26,000 for Lexington.
The EPA says the sanctions are designed to show the company the importance of properly handling the dangerous material.
“EPA expects Tyson to make the necessary changes to their plant to ensure that accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia do not happen again and the risk is minimized as much as possible,” Washburn says.
EPA plans to keep an eye on Tyson to ensure the company is following through with the safety procedures.
“Tyson is going to be subjected to some third-party audits,” Washburn says, “and these third-party audits will ensure that they are complying with these agreements within the consent decree.”
Anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer by Nebraska farmers, but it’s used by Tyson in industrial refrigeration systems. Exposure to its vapors can cause temporary blindness, eye damage and irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, respiratory tract and mucous membranes.
Tyson is headquartered in Springdale, Arkansas and is the world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork.