THE $6 MILLION in fines and remedies that Tyson Foods Inc. will pay for polluting Chincoteague Bay is the stiffest penalty levied for water pollution in Maryland.
The settlement that calls for reducing manure and bacterial runoff pollution should send a clear signal to the rest of Maryland's $1 billion poultry industry that remedial action is needed, not only by chicken processing plants but by farmer-growers who raise the birds.
"This action shows that it's more expensive not to comply with the law than to comply with it," a Justice Department lawyer said of the Tyson fine.
With the federal Environmental Protection Agency inspecting other Chesapeake poultry processors for possible water pollution charges, the Tyson agreement could provide a framework for future settlements, going well beyond the farm-runoff legislation that was passed by Maryland's General Assembly this spring.
This year, Tyson bought the troubled Hudson Foods plant near Berlin on the Eastern Shore, which was the target of EPA pollution charges, and promptly settled the case.
The plant was under state order to cut pollution for years before Maryland gave the case to the EPA for tougher enforcement.
The agreement covers much more than the Berlin facility. It also calls for reducing phosphorus pollution in chicken manure on farms.
The chicken processor will have to build waterproof manure storage sheds, add a phosphorus-reduction enzyme to poultry feed, apply runoff-reducing chemicals to stored manure and cut nitrogen effluent at four processing plants.
The company will also provide $300,000 to some 240 contract chicken-growers to control manure runoff from their farms, recognizing an important link between the farmers and the processors in fighting water pollution.
If these Tyson programs show positive results, pressure will increase to require similar measures throughout the Delmarva chicken industry.
Pub Date: 5/12/98