City warned of possible JBS Swift ammonia leak days in advance

A letter from Butchertown residents to the city’s Air Pollution Control District illustrates concerns over hazardous chemical leakage at JBS Swift’s Story Avenue meat-processing plant, which today suffered a Level 2 hazmat-grade ammonia leak that has thus far hospitalized one, closed roads and prompted the city to advise nearby residents to stay indoors.

Composed by Washington Street residents Dr. David D. and Elizabeth Paige and sent to the APCD 10 days ago, the March 14 letter highlights concerns over Swift’s handling of toxic chemicals, its flagrant disavowal of industry best practices and violations of air quality standards:

We moved to our current address on East Washington Street (near Cabel) in May of 2009 from Rogers Street in Irish Hill. While on Rogers Street, the offensive odors emanating from the Swift plant were troublesome to the point that I filed a complaint with the city as usually with the arrival of a south wind came the stench of rendering.

In May of 2009, shortly after moving to Butchertown, I attended a neighborhood meeting at Hall’s Cafeteria at which the General Manager of the Swift plant was present. When I questioned him directly regarding the extent to which the rendering odors would be removed from the air after the installation of new “scrubbers,” he told me that “99%” of the odors would be eliminated. I was naively optimistic.

In the nearly two years since that meeting, I’ve noticed no difference in the rendering smell. Monday mornings are particularly bad as the air is absolutely pungent with the strong smell of chlorine and rendering. My observation is that the rendering smell is being emitted most of the time, with the possible exception of Sunday, and whether I smell it or not is dependent upon which way the wind is blowing.

I feel that Swift and Company has repeatedly and intentionally misled those of us in the neighborhood about their attempts to eliminate the rendering odor. These difficulties also pique my concern about the degree to which our neighborhood is safe from a potential leak of harmful chemicals, such as the chlorine that I smell in the rendering odors. As Swift and Company has a documented history of not complying with applicable county laws, I believe my concern is neither trivial nor misplaced.

What is disconcerting about the problem surrounding the rendering odors at Swift in Butchertown is that this is commonplace problem in the slaughtering industry that is handled successfully by other slaughtering operations. An industry report from the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center Consortium written for the USDA states plainly that odor abatement in the rendering process can be reduced to levels below those detected by humans (p. 43). I find it galling that an operation doing several hundred million dollars a year in business in Butchertown refuses to clean our air.


  1. Doug Davis
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    A private citizen being concerned over a future possible chemical leak, because he has complaints about the rendering smell, is in no way shape or form the same as, “City warned of possible JBS Swift ammonia leak days in advance.”
    Which as Im sure you are aware, makes it seem as if some whistle blower warned the city the ammonia leak was coming and they ignored it.
    Shoddy sensationalist journalism at its worth. Fox news though would be proud.

  2. Doug Davis
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Shoddy sensationalist journalism at its “worst” not worth.

  3. Piddy
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Yeah, is there something missing? There is no mention of ammonia. From what I understand the ammonia is used as a refrigerant, not sure how that may be related to rendering. Not even sure what rendering is.

  4. jmeador
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    The point here, gang, is that the city was notified of concerns (as I’m sure they are notified all of the time) of ammonia smells, hog-slaughtering smells and/or unidentifiable-but-nonetheless-disconcerting smells, yet whenever an accident happens the response time is, as in this case as well as the Rubbertown explosion, lax.

    Also: Is FOX News hiring?

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