Tyson fined $305,000 for chicken sludge spill

Tyson Farms has agreed to pay a $305,000 federal fine stemming from a spill that dumped about 210,000 gallons of rendered chicken byproducts into a river north of Statesville, according to settlement papers filed Tuesday in federal court.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources fined Tyson $8,375 for the incident. The company paid that penalty in 2010.

“At the time of the incident, Tyson cooperated fully with local government and water treatment officials. It’s important to note that there was no health risk to residents who relied on the water at the time,” said Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman.

The spill happened in 2010, when a Tyson subsidiary called River Valley Animal Farms in Harmony accidentally discharged a mixture called “dissolved air flotation sludge” from an above-ground storage tank into Hunting Creek, a tributary of the South Yadkin River.

According to a complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, DAF sludge is a mixture “generated by the facility’s meat, bone meal, feather meal, and fat production lines, the facility’s air emission scrubber, and wastewater from the boiler during boiler blow-down.” The material is stored in a 500,000 gallon tank until it is added to soil offsite, an approved use of DAF sludge.

On Jan. 4, 2010, a frozen valve burst at the containment facility. An open valve in the “secondary containment structure” meant to capture spills let the DAF sludge flow into the adjacent creek and woods.

Two surface water intakes downstream were affected by the spill, one serving Mocksville and one serving Davie County.

“The discharged oil caused a sheen, film and discoloration of the surface of the water and adjoining shorelines of Hunting Creek and the South Yadkin River, and caused an emulsion to be deposited upon the adjoining shorelines of Hunting Creek and the South Yadkin River,” the EPA wrote in its complaint.

Tyson has 30 days to pay the federal fine, according to the settlement. Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, owner of Tyson Farms, is one of the largest food producers in the U.S. The company had $34.4 billion worth of sales in 2013. Almost a third of its revenue came from chickens, of which the company produces 41 million a week.