The tannery sludge lawsuit was filed on December 17 in Buchanan County Circuit Court by owners of farmland who say that fertilizer given to farmers from a Prime Tanning Corp. facility contained hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen which they will now have to clean up. They allege that the sludge, given to local farmers from 1983, is a byproduct of the facility’s tanning process and has polluted the land.
The tannery is currently owned by National Beef Co., which purchased the facility in March 2009. Both National Beef and Prime Tanning are defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the tannery tried changing hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, into a less harmful form known as trivalent chromium. However, the plaintiffs contend that the process failed and that the chromium changed back into chromium 6.
The landowner lawsuit follows a series of lawsuits filed since April 2009 by residents of nearby Cameron, Missouri, who say that the toxic sludge causes brain cancer. There is an unusual spike of brain tumors in Cameron, with at least 70 people in the town of only 10,000 developing brain tumors since 1996.
After the first Missouri brain tumor lawsuits were filed over the sludge in April 2009, Clinton County Judge Brent Elliot granted a motion for a temporary restraining order that prevented National Beef Leathers from destroying 80 pallets of old Prime Tanning documents they determined were no longer needed.
This summer federal investigators confirmed that trace amounts of hexavalent chromium were found in three of the four counties around the tannery, however regulators determined that the levels were not high enough to threaten human health and thus far the tanning companies have been exonerated of any blame.