All News Releases By Date
MEATPACKER MUST CUT HYDROGEN SULFIDE EMISSIONS AT NEBRASKA PLANT
Release Date: 05/24/2000
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE EPA: (202) 564-4355
WEDNESDAY, MAY 24, 2000 DOJ: (202) 514-2008
TDD (202) 514-1888 ENRD
EMISSIONS AT NEBRASKA PLANT
U.S. and IBP, inc. Sign Agreement Aimed at Public Health Threat
WASHINGTON – The United States today entered into an agreement with IBP, inc., the world’s largest meatpacker, requiring the company to take immediate steps to eliminate a public health threat posed by nearly a ton each day of hydrogen sulfide emissions at its Dakota City/South Sioux City, Neb., facility.
The agreement announced today stems from a lawsuit the Justice Department filed on behalf of the EPA in January 2000, charging that IBP violated the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws. The United States asserts that IBP failed to install required air pollution control equipment as the company expanded its complex from 1989 to 1995, and as a result, IBP illegally emitted an excessive amount of hydrogen sulfide into the air.
The agreement lodged today is designed to quickly improve the air quality in the community near IBP’s facility as the federal lawsuit against the company proceeds. The agreement, a partial consent decree, does not resolve the United States’ allegations that IBP has violated federal environmental laws.
The agreement, lodged in U.S. District Court in Omaha, Neb., directs IBP to build covered wastewater treatment lagoons by November 30, 2000; decommission existing, uncovered wastewater lagoons that are responsible for much of the facility’s hydrogen sulfide emissions; and undertake additional projects to limit the release of hydrogen sulfide into the air. Together, the required actions are expected to reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions by as much as 95%, based on calculations provided by IBP.
“This agreement means that Nebraskans will no longer be forced to inhale IBP’s toxic emissions, as they have done for years while hydrogen sulfide invaded their homes and even woke them up at night,” said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. “As one resident told us, ‘When you breathe the air in South Sioux City for a while, you just want to be where the air is clean.’ ”
Exposure to low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide – a colorless gas that has a foul, rotten egg smell – can cause respiratory problems, headache, nausea, fatigue, eye irritation, and possible neurological problems. In higher concentrations, hydrogen sulfide can cause paralysis of the respiratory system, which results in fainting or even death. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is studying the potential health effects of hydrogen sulfide exposure on the residents of Dakota City and South Sioux City, Neb.
“This consent decree demonstrates the important role that a strong enforcement program plays in protecting both the public and the environment from hazardous substances and pollutants,”said Steven A. Herman, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By requiring IBP to dramatically reduce the level of hydrogen sulfide it emits from its facility, the federal government is making sure that the surrounding communities will have cleaner and healthier air to breathe. We are working to make the communities liveable again and we will work closely with the state of Nebraska to make sure that the company performs this work correctly and quickly.”
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has documented that the air around the IBP complex shows concentrations of total reduced sulfur -- primarily hydrogen sulfide -- that frequently exceed state health standards. State tests also show that the average measure of hydrogen sulfide exceeds the much lower federal standard for continuous inhalation more than half of the time.
The decree also makes enforceable in the district court an administrative order signed by the EPA and IBP on April 27 that requires IBP to install seven onsite and two offsite devices to monitor hydrogen sulfide emissions.
“Conditions that pose an imminent threat to public health and welfare require immediate action,” said Tom Monaghan, United States Attorney for the District of Nebraska. “By obtaining IBP’s agreement to undertake the work required by EPA to correct these conditions, we have taken an important step toward improving air quality in this community. Next, we must turn to the remaining issues in litigation, including appropriate penalties for IBP’s violations. Today's agreement should ensure that local residents will breathe easier in the meantime."
The federal lawsuit against IBP seeks significant civil penalties for IBP’s past violations of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, CERCLA, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The government alleges that IBP regularly failed to report its known releases of hydrogen sulfide in excess of 100 pounds per day, as required by EPCRA and CERCLA. In October 1999, IBP reported that it continuously emits as much as 1919 pounds per day from its Dakota City facility.
The United States also asserts that IBP violated the Clean Water Act by exceeding the limits set in its discharge permit. Excessive discharges of ammonia are of particular concern because of their potential to harm aquatic life in the Missouri River. There is substantial evidence of an ongoing and persistent toxicity problem stemming from the ammonia in IBP’s discharges, dating to 1988.
IBP, founded in 1960 as Iowa Beef Packers, is the world’s largest producer of fresh beef, pork, and related products, and operates 40 plants in North America. The main slaughterhouse in Dakota City kills and processes approximately 5,000 head of cattle a day, and it operates 24 hours per day, six days per week. The adjoining tannery operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week, processing the approximately 5,000 hides generated by the slaughterhouse and thousands of hides from other sources. The wastewater treatment facility handles more than three million gallons of waste water generated by both the slaughterhouse and the tannery each day.
Comments on the Partial Consent Decree will be received for a period of thirty days.
R-77 # # #