Surveys, investigations find no signs of buried barrels

For more information: 573-751-1010
Volume 37-243 For immediate release: Aug. 10, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, -- Investigations into two separate reports of buried barrels linked to a St. Joseph tannery have yielded no evidence that would support excavation at either site, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources announced today.

"While we appreciate and rely on citizen concerns to identify issues that need to be addressed, in neither case did investigators find evidence of barrels that had been reported buried," said Acting Field Services Division Director Alice Geller.

On July 31, Department staff using ground-penetration radar, surveyed a site on the property of National Beef Leathers in St. Joseph. Results of the analysis of the radar findings showed no signs of buried barrels. The Missouri Attorney General's office had received a report from a former employee of Prime Tanning, the facility's name under previous ownership, that barrels had been buried on site.

Department staff also investigated a report made to the Department's Kansas City Regional Office of barrels buried near Agency, Mo. Staff conducted interviews with both the land owner and the complainant and surveyed the field where the barrels were reportedly buried. Following normal procedures and based on the interviews and survey, it was determined that it was unlikely that any barrels had been disposed of improperly at the site.

The Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with assistance from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, opened a cooperative investigation into the St. Joseph leather tannery in late April 2009. The government investigation was launched in response to public concerns about the tannery's distribution of sludge as agricultural fertilizer on northwest Missouri farms and whether the sludge material contained chromium (VI) at levels that might pose health risks to the public.

Initial sample results drawn from farm fields in northwest Missouri found chromium (VI) present, but not at levels that pose a risk to human health. The findings did prompt a more extensive investigation, which is still underway.

Geller reiterated the Department's desire to hear from people who have information concerning the possible improper disposal of hazardous materials, whether specifically from this case, or in general.

"To supplement our efforts, we rely on people to let us know when others are taking improper actions that threaten that environment," Geller said.

Those wishing to report an incident may call the Department's toll-free line at 800-361-4827 or reach the Department by email at contact@dnr.mo.gov. An environmental emergency -- where there is a current and on-going threat to human health and the environment -- can be reported to the Department's 24-hour spill line at 573-634-2436.

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