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Tyson manager hears neighbors’ complaints

Three weeks ago, David Whittington was watching Little League baseball at Rice Island Playground in Corydon when he noticed an odor coming from the direction of the Tyson Foods chicken processing plant nearby.
Whittington, no doubt, was extra sensitive to the chicken smell: He manages the Tyson Foods complex.
Three weeks ago, there was a problem at the plant that caused the wastewater odor, which many people noticed, including neighbors, town council members, Little League fans, golfers and those at the Relay for Life cancer fund drive. With the hottest part of summer coming on, it was dismaying.
Whittington said an aeration line separated in the equalization basin at the plant. The equalization basin is a large water reservoir located outside the plant in east Corydon. The plant is next to the west end of the Old Capital Golf Club.
The loss of the “aeration caused an upset inside the equalization basin,” Whittington said, “where we treat the water before it goes to the town” sewage treatment plant.
It took Tyson two days to fix the problem and get air back into the process to reduce the odor.
Whittington said the equalization basin hasn’t produced the odor since the second week of June, when it was at its worst.
However, the plant does produce another odor: fried chicken. Five hundred people work at the plant, where 125,000 chickens are processed each day. The chickens are killed, cut into eight pieces, battered, breaded, fried, quick-frozen, bagged and sent to big national chain customers for sale in their deli sections.
Whittington said the smell from that process is produced daily. To him, it smells like fried chicken.
To others, it’s worse than that.
Dr. Bruce and Joan Burton live on a hill above the plant, less than half a mile away, to the southwest. Joan Burton said they have suffered from obnoxious odors since Tyson bought the plant from Hudson Foods about three years ago and expanded in a big way soon thereafter.
The Burtons detect three smells: 1. manure (“It gets worse as it gets hotter and varies with the wind,” Joan said); 2. a cooking smell, and 3. old blood. “What a horrible smell. It varies.”)
Joan Burton said the smell was particulary strong a week ago Monday morning. At night, they like to turn off their air-conditioning and sleep with the windows open. Frequently, they detect a bad odor in the middle of the night.
Bruce Burton said he could smell the odor at his office next to the Harrison County Hospital, about a mile from the plant. “It was definitely a Tyson smell, not anything else,” he told his wife.
“It’s unpredictable,” said Joan, an herb gardener. “Today (Friday) it’s fine, but some days you go outside and it knocks you down.”
Her neighbors say they can’t have friends over for cookouts because of the smell from the plant.
“I’d love for it to be totally fixed,” she said. “A plant like that has no business being in the middle of a town — that size and nature.”
Keith Chanley, who lives down the street from the Tyson plant, said it’s been a problem the last couple of years, “mostly when it warms up, but it’s been real bad this year. It’s not as bad as it was, but it still smells.”
Last week, however, “it smelled like a sewer,” he said Friday. He didn’t recall the exact date because “It’s that way so often I don’t pay any attention anymore.”
He said the smell “just stays in the valley. You can’t hardly sit on the deck at all; the stink is awful, even in my garage. ” He thought he might have a gas leak, but checked it out and “that wasn’t it.”
Chanley works nights, and when he comes home from work at about 10:30 p.m., “It smells petty bad then. It comes and goes. Sometimes it don’t smell.”
The worst problem, Chanley said, is when the Tyson trucks haul away the chicken offal at night. “The blood just pours out the back of the trucks all the way through town. It’s a mess. It’s rotten.”
Another neighbor who preferred anonymity said the bad smell stays after the trucks have gone by. “It gags you. The stench stays around … It smells like rotten meat, flesh.”
Whittington said the trucks that leave the plant are sealed, and he wasn’t aware of any problem with leaks. He said that anyone who has complaints about the trucks should contact him. The trucks take the offal to a rendering facility in Robards, Ky.
Whittington said Tyson can handle the odors. “What we have is manageable,” he said. “We have the ability and the equipment to fix it, and it’s up to us to do it,” he said.
“We place a high value on our relationship with the community, and we want to be a good member of the community.”
Whittington and his managers have chosen to live here, and they like living here, he said Friday. Tyson has spent a lot of money recently sponsoring community events and building a much higher profile in the community.
“If we have an equipment problem, we feel like we can handle the problem, and we will solve the problem,” Whittington said. “We had a plan in place that worked last summer, and we have a plan in place for this summer.”