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Missouri meatpacker that sought to dump wastewater into river will shut down

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Missouri meatpacker that sought to dump wastewater into river will shut down

Feb 26, 2024 | 5:57 pm ET
By Allison Kite
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Missouri meatpacker that sought to dump wastewater into river will shut down
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An undated photo of the Pomme de Terre River, which runs through Webster, Greene, Dallas, Polk and Hickory counties. A meat packing company near Pleasant Hope wanted a permit to discharge its wastewater into the river, which is already proposed for the impaired waters list. The meatpacker is now closing. (Shannon Henry photo via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

A southwest Missouri meatpacking plant that sought to dump treated wastewater into an impaired river will halt operations — at least temporarily.

Missouri Prime Beef Packers will shutter its Pleasant Hope facility, which processes 3,500 cattle per week, April 26. It’s not clear whether the closure will be temporary or permanent. 

The closure, disclosed in a filing with the state, comes after the facility withdrew a request with state environmental regulators to discharge treated wastewater from its operations directly into the Pomme de Terre River, which already struggles with high levels of E. coli bacteria.  

Missouri environmental regulators in November signaled their intent to deny the facility’s request

Missouri Prime Beef Packers could not immediately be reached for comment, but the company’s spokesman told the Springfield News-Leader, which first reported the closure, that it “stems from operational challenges at the facility related to wastewater management and persistently unfavorable market conditions.”

According to a notice filed under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act, the plant’s 335 workers will be laid off. Some will continue to work until the plant closes April 26, but others will be placed on leave and then terminated in April.

The WARN Act notice says the closure could be temporary or permanent. 

The meatpacking plant had sought permission from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to treat wastewater from the meatpacking process with a proprietary microbe technology called “iLeaf” before discharging it into the Pomme de Terre River. The company currently applies its wastewater to surrounding land as fertilizer.

The state initially found in its review of the requests that the microbe technology could sufficiently treat the wastewater, but after considerable public pushback, it determined it didn’t have adequate assurance the facility wouldn’t contribute to the river’s water quality problems.

The Pomme de Terre River winds through the Ozark region of southwest Missouri and is a popular destination for canoeing, swimming and fishing. But it has been on and off a federal list of impaired waterways because of high levels of E. coli bacteria. It’s currently considered impaired.

The river was found in 2019 to have an average of more than 200 E. coli colonies per 100 milliliters of water, well above the limit of 126. 

Pomme de Terre Lake, which is fed by the river, is also considered impaired because of high levels of chlorophyll-a, which indicates the lake is receiving too much phosphorus and nitrogen, both found in farm runoff and animal waste. 

After the state signaled its intent to deny the company’s request, Missouri Prime Beef Packer withdrew it. 

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources could not immediately be reached for comment.