Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published October 14, 2011, 11:24 AM

SD meatpacking plant to pay federal fine

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — John Morrell & Co. has agreed pay a $206,000 federal fine and improve how it manages the ammonia refrigeration system at its meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls. The penalty comes in the wake of a state-imposed fine for pollution of a local river.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — John Morrell & Co. has agreed pay a $206,000 federal fine and improve how it manages the ammonia refrigeration system at its meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls. The penalty comes in the wake of a state-imposed fine for pollution of a local river.

Under the federal settlement, the company must correct violations uncovered two years ago and file twice-yearly progress reports on the work. The 2009 inspection and a follow-up visit found multiple violations of federal laws governing the handling of large quantities of toxic chemicals. The violations ranged from corroded and mislabeled equipment to deficient insulation.

“Anhydrous ammonia is acutely toxic and extremely hazardous when released into the air,” Mike Gaydosh, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement program in Denver, said in a statement. “Failing to establish adequate risk management programs and keep plans updated can increase the risk of accidents and compromise the effectiveness of emergency response actions.”

Chuck Sanger, a spokesman for John Morrell's parent company, Smithfield Foods, said the company is committed to operating a safe refrigeration system.

“John Morrell is working with regulators to resolve the audit findings, and significant capital investments have been under way for several months to modernize the refrigeration system,” he said in a statement. “The work is expected to be completed by next year.”

John Morrell recently was fined about $44,000 by the state of South Dakota for polluting the Big Sioux River with ammonia dozens of times since 2008. In 2004, Morrell was fined more than $18,000 after a corroded pipe ruptured and sent dozens of workers to the hospital. Morrell did not admit liability in either settlement.

Morrell's recent fines are relatively minor considering the size of the business, said Mike Keller, dean of the University of South Dakota business school. John Morrell is one of three subsidiaries that make up Smithfield Foods’ pork division, and the Sioux Falls slaughterhouse is the largest of Morrell's eight U.S. plants. In fiscal 2011, the pork division reported an operating profit of $753 million.

“I would almost call it in the ordinary course of business — fix it, pay the fines and move on to the next thing,” Keller said.

Tags: