Springdale-based Tyson Foods has resolved a three-year legal dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over water pollution and dumping of wastewater in southwestern Missouri. Tyson Foods will pay a $2 million fine to the EPA and make a $500,000 community service investment to be shared equally by the city of Monett and other Missouri environmental organizations.
The fine comes on top of a $320,000 settlement in January 2015 with the state of Missouri, which sued Tyson Foods in civil court for the “unlawful dumping of untreated wastewater” killing about 100,000 fish near Monett. That same year, Tyson Foods also contributed $500,000 to the Nature Conservancy in an effort to protect rivers and streams in its home base of Northwest Arkansas and neighboring southwest Missouri where the violation occurred a year earlier.
“We deeply regret the mistake that was made and have taken corrective action to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re committed to doing better in all areas of our business, especially when it comes to protecting the environment. Since the incident, we’ve conducted lessons learned training for all environmental managers in our poultry operations and have strengthened our environmental policies and procedures to help prevent similar mistakes,” Tyson Foods noted in a statement issued Wednesday (Sept. 27).
Tyson Foods said the company is also funding third-party environmental audits of its feed mills and wastewater treatments plants as part of the settlement. The company said it takes responsibility for two misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act.
The violations occurred in May 2014 when Tyson Foods released wastewater containing Alimet, a liquid animal feed supplement from its pre-treatment plant into Monett’s sewer system. This incident resulted in operational problems at Monett’s wastewater treatment facility and killing thousands of fish along a six-mile stretch of Clear Creek.
Tyson Foods had plenty to lose as a result of this lengthy EPA investigation – namely its lucrative government contracts totaling over $5 billion since 2000 if the agency had found Tyson criminally liable. The settlement announced Wednesday indicates Tyson Foods has for now escaped that threat.
Scott Edwards, a litigator for the Food & Water Justice arm of Food and Water Watch, said Tyson Foods and other poultry plants and wastewater mishaps are nothing new. Edwards said the company again found a scapegoat, agreed to pay the fines and move on.
While Tyson Foods maintains the mishap in Monett was accidental, the company’s environmental record was one of the issues recently raised by residents in Tonganoxie, Kan., the site the company had picked for its new chicken processing complex. A groundswell of opposition mounted by the Kansas residents and resulted in incentives being pulled. Tyson Foods has since put that $320 million project on hold and is searching other cities in the state as potential sites. The Tonganoxie Citizens Against Project Sunset said Tyson Foods’ environmental record didn’t match the promises made as the company has incurred more than $13.178 million in penalties for environmental violations since 2010. There have also been $10.194 million in fines regarding employment discrimination and $1.619 million workplace safety violation fines.
Tyson Foods maintains there are other cities in Kansas that welcome the new chicken facility. The company hasn’t built a new chicken processing facility and supporting complex since 1996.