Kansas City-based National Beef Leathers suspended distributing waste product to farmers for use as fertilizer as it investigates claims that it contains a cancer-causing substance. The announcement came on the heels of a lawsuit--filed yesterday with environmental activist Erin Brockovich's help--that accuses the tannery of contaminating northwest Missouri farm land and causing a rash of brain tumors in the Cameron area.
The lawsuit claims the company used hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, to remove hair from hides and it ended up in the waste as a result. The carcinogenic chemical is the same one that prompted a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas & Energy in 1996 for exposing a California town to the chemical. That lawsuit was the story line for the movie "Erin Brockovich."
National Beef Leathers, part of National Beef Packing Co., purchased Prime Tanning Corp.'s St. Joseph plant last month. Both companies are named in the lawsuit.
In response, Prime Tanning Co. released this statement:
"Prime Tanning Co., Inc. takes the allegations in this litigation very seriously. We have a long-standing commitment to environmental excellence, providing a safe rewarding workplace and contributing to the communities in which we operate.
"We have more than 80 years experience in tanning and safeguarding the environment has always been a top priority. The facility in St. Joseph, Mo., is ISO 14001 certified and audited. (ISO 14001 is the international standard for environmental certification) In addition, it received Silver-Medal certification from the British Leather Confederation, recognizing its environmental processes and solutions.
"Applying the nutrients produced as a by-product of tanning as fertilizer to agricultural land is an environmentally responsible practice that is done in accordance with all Missouri laws and regulations.
"Based on our preliminary investigation we believe there is no basis for the claims made in the litigation. We look forward to cooperating fully with state and federal agencies in their review and investigation."