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Chris Koster: Tyson Foods must be held accountable for the wastewater dump in Clear Creek.
Chris Koster: Tyson Foods must be held accountable for the wastewater dump in Clear Creek.

Tyson spill leads to attorney general lawsuit

Posted online
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed suit June 17 in Barry County Circuit Court against poultry giant Tyson Foods Inc. (NYSE: TSN) for dumping wastewater into a southwest Missouri stream that killed at least 100,000 fish.

Beginning May 16, the Tyson Foods facility in Monett discharged wastewater containing a highly acidic animal-feed supplement into the city of Monett’s sewer system, according to Koster’s office and a Monett wastewater official.

The effluent, or discharge, caused the city’s biological wastewater treatment system to temporarily fail as the affected water, which contained a high level of ammonia, flowed into Clear Creek, causing the fish kill.

“Missouri’s waterways are among our state’s most important natural resources,” Koster said in a news release. “Tyson’s conduct threatened the vitality of Clear Creek as a resource for southwest Missouri. Tyson Foods must be held accountable for dumping pollution into the waterways of southwest Missouri, and this conduct must not happen again.”

Skip Schaller, general manager of utilities for the city of Monett, said the discharge rendered useless the city’s seed stock it uses to treat wastewater, and the untreated water flowed through to Clear Creek, killing the fish.

He said on May 16, a city worker who was pulling samples from area industrial sites noticed a peculiar smell but by the time Schaller got in contact with Tyson, he said Tyson believed the situation was contained. However, within a few days, the scent of ammonia was detected at the city’s wastewater treatment facility and by May 22 or 23, Schaller said he knew there was a serious problem.

“It killed the bacteria in the plant that processes ammonia and helps with the waste. The effluent leaving the plant had too much ammonia in it, so it was causing the fish problems in the stream,” Schaller said.

He said the city reached out to wastewater neighbors in Mount Vernon for more seed material to help treat the waste.

“We basically had to re-seed the plant,” Schaller said, adding the process took about five days to get the treatment facility back to full operation.

Koster’s lawsuit comprises six counts against Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson for polluting state waters and violating Missouri’s hazardous waste laws. The state attorney general is seeking penalties against Tyson, compensation for the damage to the stream and reimbursement for the state’s expenses related to investigating the incident.

Schaller said the city’s costs have yet to be determined, but he expects costs to run in the thousands of dollars. He said the city is working with Tyson Foods and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to determine damages and if any further remediation is needed.

Worth Sparkman, public relations manager for Tyson Foods, said the company is working to make the situation right.

“Through newspaper ads, we’re publicly apologizing to the people of Monett and Pierce City. We’ve met with some community leaders, and we’ve asked to meet with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to see how we can help improve Clear Creek.

“We’ve also taken a hard look at how we manage environmental matters at Monett and are improving our processes because we don’t want this to ever happen again,” Sparkman said in a company statement via email.

Jacob Brower, publisher and editor of The Monett Times, said Tyson took out an ad in its June 18 issue. He said it’s possible the ad could run again, but he doesn’t believe it’s likely.

“I was under the impression it was just a one-time, Wednesday ad,” Brower said, noting the open rate for a full-page, grayscale ad – the type Tyson ran in the paper – is $806.40.

Sparkman declined to say what the company was expecting to spend on the ads or the remediation efforts.

The advertisement, which reads like a letter from local plant officials, said, in part: “We will do everything in our power to make sure this mistake will never be repeated.

“We have scrutinized our protocols and processes, and we are improving training efforts.”

Officials with the Missouri DNR could not be reached for comment on this story by press time.[[In-content Ad]]

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