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Tyson fined for violations

4/6/2013

By The Telegram

By The Telegram

Tyson Foods Inc., has agreed to pay a $3.95 million civil penalty to settle alleged violations of Clean Air Act regulations covering the prevention of chemical accidents at its facilities in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency said in a press release Friday.

As part of a consent decree lodged Friday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, Mo., Tyson has agreed to conduct pipe-testing and third-party audits of its ammonia refrigeration systems to improve compliance with the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program requirements at all 23 of the company's facilities in the four Midwestern states, the release said.

Those facilities include plants in Holcomb, South Hutchinson, Hutchinson, Emporia, Olathe in Kansas; Cherokee, Columbus Junction, Council Bluffs, Denison, Perry, Sioux City, Storm Lake and Waterloo in Iowa; Concordia, Dexter, Monett, Montgomery City, Noel and Sedalia in Missouri; and Dakota City, Lexington, Madison and Omaha in Nebraska.

The Tyson plant in Holcomb is the top employer in Finney County with 2,200 workers, according to figures from the Garden City Chamber of Commerce.

The settlement stems from eight separate incidents between 2006 and 2010 in which accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia at Tyson facilities resulted in property damage, multiple injuries, and one fatality. An ammonia leak on Oct. 31, 2006, killed Michael Wiebe, 51, and injured a co-worker at the South Hutchinson facility, according to the release and an online report from the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Through a series of inspections and information requests, EPA found multiple occasions of noncompliance with the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention provisions at Tyson's facilities. Dating back to October 2006, those violations included failures to follow the general industry standards to test or replace safety relief valves, improperly co-located gas-fired boilers and ammonia machinery, as well as failures to abide by the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program prevention and reporting requirements, the release said.

"The EPA's concerns about our Finney County plant was not the result of an on-site investigation or any particular incident, but was based on a review of internal documents provided by the company for all of our sites in the region. EPA expressed concern the Finney County plant did not include certain design details in the process safety information on equipment used in the refrigeration system," Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said in an email to The Telegram.

Tyson's 23 facilities listed in the consent decree are subject to the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program requirements because their refrigeration systems each contain more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. The facilities have a combined inventory of more than 1.7 million pounds of the chemical.

"Today's settlement with Tyson Foods will ensure the proper safety practices are in place in the future to protect employees, first responders and communities located near processing facilities from the threat of dangerous chemical releases," Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in the EPA release.

Tyson said in a press release it strives to operate its facilities responsibly. After learning of EPA's concerns, "we immediately made improvements and cooperated with EPA officials throughout the process," said Kevin Igli, senior vice president and chief Environmental, Health and Safety Officer of Tyson Foods.

Headquartered in Springdale, Ark., Tyson is the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork. The company agreed to develop a third-party audit system at the impacted facilities to assure EPA the plants are in compliance with "all aspects of our Risk Management Plan obligations," Igli said. "In fact, we expect this auditing system to become a model provision that EPA may require from other industrial users of anhydrous ammonia or other chemicals, including other agricultural and food companies."

The company will also provide $300,000 to help purchase emergency response equipment for fire departments in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which will receive $78,990; Perry, Iowa, $72,156; Dexter, Mo., $25,795; Monett, Mo., $26,855; Noel, Mo., $35,829; Dakota City, Neb., $16,630; Lexington, Neb., $25,858; and Omaha, Neb., $17,934, the EPA press release said.

EPA Public Affairs Specialist Ben Washburn said the equipment will be useful "in the event they have to respond to an anhydrous ammonia" event in the future. Commonly used in industrial refrigeration systems, anhydrous ammonia is a "dangerous and poisonous substance" that can cause temporary blindness, eye damage, throat, respiratory and mucus membrane problems. "Prolonged exposure in high concentrations can cause more serious complications such as lung damage and death," EPA Public Affairs Specialist Ben Washburn said.

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