Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Thursday July 21st, 2016, 10:16am

Tyson Meat Company Ranked As Worst Illinois Water Polluter Among Agribusinesses

New research shows the Tyson Fresh Meats animal slaughtering facility in Hillsdale was the top water polluter in Illinois among major agribusiness operations in 2014.

That year, the Tyson Fresh Meats plant released over 2 million pounds of pollutants into the state's waterways, according to the Environment America Research & Education Center's report.

The environmental advocacy group examined the "water pollution footprints" of Tyson Foods and four other major agribusinesses, Cargill, JBS, Perdue and Smithfield, in Illinois and other states. Forty-four percent of the nation's pork, chicken and beef is produced by those five companies, according to the report.

Researchers analyzed the most recent 2014 data from the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) on pollution discharges into waterways from the five major agribusinesses. Among the findings, Tyson's facilities released the most pollutants nationwide -- nearly 21 million pounds. 

That's more pollutants "by volume than even Exxon Mobil or DuPont," according to the environmental group.

Nitrates, which can be hazardous to the environment and human health, represented most of the pollution from Tyson's processing facilities.

"When most people think of water pollution, they think of pipes dumping toxic chemicals," said Environment Illinois campaign organizer Brittany King. "But this report shows how, increasingly, corporations like Tyson are running our farms and ruining our rivers and bays."

Tyson Foods did not respond to a request for comment. However, a company spokesperson provided a statement to the Houston Press refuting the report's accusations.

"The claims made by Environment America [Research and Policy Center] are egregiously inaccurate and misleading; we vigorously refute them," the Tyson Foods statement reads. "The water we use in our processing operations is returned to streams and rivers only after it's been properly treated by wastewater treatment systems that are government-regulated and permitted. The data Environment America is sensationalizing is the same publicly available information we regularly provide the EPA about our wastewater treatment systems.

"Because Environment America chose to publish this report without contacting us, we question the group's methodology regarding manure management related to our supply chain," the statement continued. "We rely on more than 11,000 independent family farmers to raise poultry and livestock for our company, most of which are required by local, state and federal laws to have nutrient management plans."

In Illinois, the second largest agribusiness water polluter cited in the report was Cargill's processing plant in Beardstown, which has since been acquired by JBS. The Beardstown-based facility was responsible for discharging more than 1.3 million pounds of pollutants into waterways in 2014.

"From the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes - and in countless rivers and streams in between - pollution from agricultural activities is fueling algae blooms, threatening wildlife and fouling drinking water supplies," the report reads.

"The time has come to hold corporate agribusiness accountable for its pollution of our environment - just as Americans a generation ago did with industrial polluters. It is up to Americans to insist on better practices that repair the damage already done, and eliminate the massive burden that agricultural pollution inflicts on our waterways."

Image: Environment America

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