Tyson Foods Fined $500,000 in Death Of Worker Who Inhaled Chicken Processing Plant Fumes

Thursday, November 05, 2009 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: Tyson Foods, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Tyson Foods has been found guilty of deliberately violating worker safety laws, leading directly to the death of a worker, and has been ordered to pay $500,000 and serve one year of probation.

The punishment is the maximum penalty allowed by law.

"Federal laws require employers to undertake steps that limit exposure to dangerous substances like the gas that killed Jason Kelley," said John Cruden from the U.S. Department of Justice. "Today, Tyson Foods is paying the maximum fine for failing to abide by these laws. The Justice Department takes its enforcement responsibility seriously and companies that ignore these laws and risk their employees' lives will be prosecuted."

In October 2003, Tyson Foods management became aware that hydrogen sulfide gas was being produced at four of its River Valley Animal Foods processing plants due to the decomposition of chicken feathers. The gas was building up, in particular, around the high-pressure steam hydrolyzers used to convert chicken feathers into feather meal. This posed a particular danger because the hydrolyzers frequently required maintenance or replacement.

The company acted to protect employees at three of the factories, implementing measures to reduce the gas emissions or providing protective gear to workers. At a plant in Texarkana, however, the company did not take any protective action.

On October 10, 2003, maintenance worker Jason Kelley was fatally poisoned by hydrogen sulfide while repairing a leak on a hydrolyzer. There was so much toxic gas on the scene that two emergency responders and another employee who tried to save Kelley had to be hospitalized, and two other employees were treated for hydrogen sulfide poisoning on site.

A worker had previously been poisoned by hydrogen sulfide at the same factory, in March 2002.

After Kelley's death, the Department of Labor launched an investigation, eventually handing criminal prosecution over to the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

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