ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Tyson Foods agreed Friday to pay a $3.95 million penalty for its accidental release of ammonia in four states, which caused at least one death.
Anhydrous ammonia is a poisonous gas and considered an extremely hazardous substance under the Clean Air Act, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
"Exposure to vapors can cause temporary blindness and eye damage, as well as irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, respiratory tract and mucous membranes," the statement continues. "Prolonged exposure to anhydrous ammonia vapor at high concentrations can lead to serious lung damage and even death. "
Based in Springdale, Ark., Tyson is the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork.
The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency filed the complaint and settlement simultaneously on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. They said they took action "to address threats of accidental chemical releases after anhydrous ammonia was released during incidents at facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, resulting in multiple injuries, property damage and one fatality."
In addition to the $3.95 million penalty, the consent decree requires Tyson to conduct third-party audits of its current compliance with the risk-management program of the Clean Air Act, as it pertains to all 23 of its facilities in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
The Justice Department said those third-party auditors "must have expertise in ammonia refrigeration systems, be recognized experts in risk management program compliance and be approved by EPA."
Tyson will also "test certain piping used in its refrigeration systems at the 23 facilities to identify any problems that may have led to accidental releases and to replace any non-compliant piping."
An additional provision of the deal requires Tyson to implement a supplemental environmental project, under which it must buy $300,000 worth of emergency-response equipment for first responders in communities with significant environmental justice concerns in which Tyson operates facilities.
"The 23 Tyson facilities named in the consent decree are subject to the regulations because the refrigeration systems at the facilities each contain more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia," according to the Justice Department statement. "The facilities have a combined inventory of more than 1.7 million pounds of anhydrous ammonia."
A federal judge will decide whether to approve the proposed settlement after a 30-day public comment period .
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