EPA investigating St. Charles meat processing plant upon request from U.S. Rep. Krishnamoorthi

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened an investigation into the Smithfield Foods meat processing facility in St. Charles after U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi requested a probe in a letter last month.

Krishnamoorthi, a Schaumburg Democrat who represents Illinois' 8th Congressional District, sent letters Aug. 18 to the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, asking them to inspect the Smithfield Foods meat processing facility in St. Charles because of increasing complaints from residents about the plant's foul odors.

In a letter this week, EPA regional administrator Debra Shore told Krishnamoorthi that the agency is investigating the wastewater treatment processes and equipment at the Smithfield Foods facility in St. Charles.

"Due to a long-standing policy of limiting third party communications regarding enforcement matters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not able to share findings from ongoing investigations," Shore said in the letter. "Please be assured that we are in contact with the City of St. Charles and with the Smithfield Foods facility. And we will be pleased to provide you with the information concerning the inspections when publicly available."

The source of the odor is the plant's wastewater treatment facility, which treats roughly 90,000 gallons of wastewater generated by the plant daily.

In his letter, Krishnamoorthi cited gastrointestinal and respiratory tract symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and breathing issues associated with environmental malodors. He also raised concern that the odor may be related to a food safety issue that could affect consumers across the region.

Krishnamoorthi asked that both agencies launch official investigations and make the findings public.

John Meyer, Smithfield Foods' senior director of environmental affairs, said previously that the odor from the wastewater treatment plant is unrelated to food safety. He said the wastewater is treated in a separate building away from the plant's other processes.

"I welcome the news that the EPA has launched an investigation into the malodors surrounding the Smithfield Foods facility in St. Charles," Krishnamoorthi said Thursday in a news release. "While I am disappointed by the EPA's initial refusal to share its findings so long as the investigation is ongoing, I will continue to work with local authorities to address this issue while pressing the EPA to disclose any investigatory findings pertinent to the health and well-being of St. Charles residents."

Meyer said on Sept. 6 that the plant had a surprise inspection from the EPA on Aug. 29, which did not bring forward any concerns. However, they were still waiting for a formal report.

He added that all Smithfield processing plants nationwide, including the St. Charles facility, are inspected daily by the USDA to ensure they meet federal regulations.

Meyer said that even though they feel they have fixed the problem considerably, Smithfield officials continue to work to mitigate the odor and have plans to construct a cover for the treatment facility. They also installed an odor control system earlier this year and have invested more than $350,000 in odor neutralization and system setup.

The Smithfield Foods processing plant at 410 S. Kirk Road produces dried sausage, mainly pepperoni and salami, and employs about 500 people.

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