WASHINGTON — Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. has been assessed a $2,026,500 civil penalty to settle allegations it violated terms of a 2002 consent decree and a federally-issued pollution discharge permit at its meat processing facility in Dakota City, Neb., according to the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In April 2002, Tyson Fresh Meats (known then as IBP inc.), until May 2003, entered into a consent decree with the federal government and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to bring wastewater discharges at its facility into compliance with state and federal law. Tyson discharges an average of 5 million gallons of treated effluent from its Dakota City facility into the Missouri River each day.

The 2002 consent decree required IBP to complete a supplemental environmental project, specifically a $2.9 million nitrification system that was intended to reduce the amount of ammonia in its wastewater discharges to the Missouri River. The decree also provided that once the installation of the nitrification system was complete, the U.S. would begin to enforce certain limits of a new National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit relating to toxicity and ammonia levels in the facilities treated wastewater discharge.

The government alleges, according to a filing made on Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court in Omaha, that Tyson failed to properly operate the nitrification system as required by the 2002 consent decree from July 2003 through March 2004. As a result, it had numerous discharges of fecal coliform and nitrites in violation of its 2002 NPDES permit. Nitrites in the discharge caused high levels of toxicity to aquatic life in the Missouri River, the Justice Department relays.

Tyson Foods responded in a statement late Thursday that it worked cooperatively with state and federal regulators concerning wastewater issues that occurred years ago at this former IBP plant. Those issues have been resolved and the plant's Dakota City wastewater treatment system is operating effectively, it added.

After Tyson became aware in 2003 that some treatment plant processes were not performing as intended, operational changes were made and additional equipment and systems added, enabling the treatment system to function consistently. Improvements included installing additional process monitoring equipment; expanding technical training in operations, awareness and troubleshooting; enhancing administrative, process and engineering controls and improving ongoing environmental and technical surveillance via the facility’s Environmental, Health and Safety Management System, the statement relayed.

"Over the past nine years, approximately $27 million has been spent upgrading and improving the IBP wastewater treatment system at Dakota City. This includes more than $4 million spent on modifications since 2003," the statement concluded.