Tyson Foods Agrees to Monitor Level of Ammonia Emissions

On Wednesday, Tyson Foods agreed to monitor poultry operations across the region for ammonia emissions and to report the results of its findings to the Sierra Club.

Jan. 28—On Wednesday, Tyson Foods agreed to monitor poultry operations across the region for ammonia emissions and to report the results of its findings to the Sierra Club.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed in 2002 against Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Chicken, Tyson Children Partnership and four poultry operations in Webster, McLean and Hopkins counties. The suit was filed by the Sierra Club and three residents who lived near the chicken operations.

In November 2003, U.S. District Judge Joseph H. McKinley Jr. ruled Tyson was liable for reporting ammonia emissions from its poultry growing operations. Tyson had claimed the company did not control the operations, which are run by growers under contract to Tyson. But McKinley ruled that Tyson Chicken has enough control over its chicken growers that Tyson officials should know when ammonia is being emitted from chicken houses.

Both the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act require that federal, state and local officials be notified when hazardous materials such as ammonia are released into the environment. The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act requires that all emissions of hazardous material over 100 pounds be reported.

The consent decree calls for Tyson to monitor one of the four chicken operations named in the suit — and a second site chosen by the company — continuously for one year. Tyson is required to submit the results of the monitoring to Sierra Club and the other plaintiffs.

The company is also required to spend up to $50,000 to plant trees. The residents who filed the suit will hire contractors to plant the trees, with Tyson paying for the service.

Tyson admitted to no liability or wrongdoing by entering into the agreement, court documents said. As part of the agreement, Tyson paid each of the three residents who filed suit an undisclosed sum and paid court costs.

John Harbison, an attorney who represented the Sierra Club and other plaintiffs, said he was pleased with the agreement.

"I give Tyson some credit for agreeing to conduct what I think is a state of the art monitoring program," Harbison said. The emissions monitoring will be conducted by environmental researchers from Iowa State University.

"It's going to be (year-round) monitoring, which really has never been done before," Harbison said. "It's going to be really comprehensive."

Harbison said monitoring at the sites should begin in May or June. "It will take them about six months to analyze the data, so we probably won't have the figures until 18 months" from the onset of monitoring, Harbison said. "They'll be good, solid numbers."

In a press release, Tyson foods said the monitoring "may help determine whether emissions from such chicken growing facilities are considered reportable under federal regulations." Tyson previously claimed each individual chicken house should be considered an operation, but McKinley ruled in 2003 all chicken houses on one site must be considered one facility when determining ammonia emissions.

The press release said the company agreed to plant trees "to help foster a better relationship with neighbors."

Harbison said the settlement could have national repercussions. "This is a case that involves three specific farms and not the whole country," he said. "But when that data becomes available, the Sierra Club believes it has a good foundation to ask the (Environmental Protection Agency) to regulate the amount of emissions that come from those facilities. That's the goal down the road."

Aloma Dew, the Sierra Club's associate Midwest representative, said the federal Superfund law does not require Tyson to reduce ammonia emissions at its facilities.

"What (Superfund) does do is say they have to report it," Dew said. The residents who filed the suit, Dew said, "have vindication now, and everybody is excited that this thing is done and we'll be seeing some improvements."

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© 2005, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.