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Missouri bill protecting rural neighbors from meatpacking sludge nears passage

Denali Water Solutions operates storage basins for meatpacking sludge in Missouri. Legislation in the Missouri House would impose regulations to help rural residents who complain of unbearable smells from the facilities.
U.S. Government Accountability Office
via Wikipedia
Denali Water Solutions operates storage basins for meatpacking sludge in Missouri. Legislation in the Missouri House would impose regulations to help rural residents who complain of unbearable smells from the facilities.

The legislation requiring companies to build their meatpacking sludge storage lagoons away from nearby homes passed the Missouri Senate this week.

Meatpacking sludge storage lagoons that have drawn the ire of rural neighbors because of their foul stench would face stricter state regulations under legislation that passed the Missouri Senate Tuesday.

Senators voted 30-1 to require the facilities to obtain water pollution permits, be set back from nearby homes, follow certain design requirements and monitor groundwater in certain areas. The legislation now heads back to the House, which overwhelmingly approved an earlier version of the bill in February.

The bill was combined in a Senate committee with legislation meant to protect Missouri’s water from being exported to other states out of fear parts of the country impacted by worsening drought brought on by climate change would look to Missouri’s abundant rivers for a solution. But the provision was removed before the full Senate vote.

Missouri State Sen. Jill Carter, who carried the legislation in the Senate, said companies that store meatpacking sludge and apply it as fertilizer aren’t required to follow any standards to ensure the health of soil and water in rural Missouri.

“When I’ve been out, there’s six inches of this ‘industrial waste sludge,’ they call it, and the cows are out there eating it,” said Carter, a Republican from Granby.

The meatpacking sludge legislation was introduced in response to an abrupt switch in state agencies that regulate fertilizer. It primarily targets Denali Water Solutions, which collects waste from meatpacking plants and holds it in lagoons in McDonald, Newton and Macon counties before spreading it on farmers’ fields as free fertilizer.

Until last year, Denali held permits from the Missouri Fertilizer Control Board, which exempted it from having to get a permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Because of that, Denali was free from regulation by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources unless the meatpacking sludge polluted the state’s waterways.

Last year, the Missouri Fertilizer Control Board decided it didn’t have authority over Denali since it gives away its product rather than selling it as a commercial fertilizer. Without a fertilizer permit, Denali had to get a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

The company has sued the fertilizer board in an attempt to have its previous permit reinstated.

After the fertilizer board’s decision, Missouri environmental regulators allowed the company to keep operating in the interim. But last fall, the company applied so much sludge to a field just before a storm that regulators changed their minds.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources visited a site following residents’ complaints and found Denali had applied so much waste it resulted in “standing pools of liquids and solids” covering vegetation on the fields.

The state and Denali reached an agreement prohibiting the company from applying waste to fields in Missouri and requiring it to drain its lagoons and pay fines.

To resume its operations, Denali still needs a permit from the state. Until then, it must take its waste to a treatment facility or haul it out of Missouri.

Denali was not immediately available to comment on the legislation.

Steven Jeffery, an attorney representing two separate resident groups fighting Denali lagoons in their areas, applauded the legislation. While “no one ever gets everything they want in developing legislation,” he said, the bill would be far more protective of rural communities than the status quo.

This story was originally published in The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.
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