Nearly 300,000 pounds of rotting chicken, other meat taken to landfill

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

EXETER, Mo. -- The owner of a plant where nearly 300,000 pounds of chicken and other meat rotted blames his insurance company and a string of bad luck for the problems.

Five trailer loads of meat were taken from the 6,000-square foot freezer warehouse Saturday to the Black Oak Landfill near Hartville in Wright County, said Doug Thompson, who monitored the cleanup for the DNR.

The ruined meat, which had spread a foul odor through the town, was trucked from the Eski-Mo Packing plant to a landfill after the Barry County Circuit Court on Friday ordered Eski-Mo to have the meat removed.

The petition, filed by Attorney General Jay Nixon's office, alleged the company has allowed chicken parts to decay at the plant since it closed on Sept. 29.

Five trailer loads of meat were taken from the 6,000-square foot freezer warehouse Saturday to the Black Oak Landfill near Hartville in Wright County, said Doug Thompson, who monitored the cleanup for the DNR.

But while the cleanup is done, the cause of the problem remains under contention.

Jacobs said his trouble began in July, when lightning took out one of the plant's four compressors, although the power and refrigeration continued to work. But after the company's insurer denied his claim, Jacobs said another compressor had to be run so hard that it eventually gave out.

The insurance company's decision did not leave him with enough money to fix the problem, he said. The meat then began to smell because of unusually hot weather for mid-October.

"When was the last time you saw 80-some-odd degree weather in October?," Jacobs said in a telephone interview from his home in Aurora. "Everything seemed to be working against me."

But an adjustor for Eski-Mo determined the equipment failure was due to "mechanical breakdown," not lightning, and "mechanical breakdown is not covered," said Larry Jansen, an agent/broker with PJC Insurance in Springfield.

Jacobs, who has owned the plant for 19 years, said he would like to reopen it if he is eventually successful in getting money from his insurance company.

"They can intimidate people, do all that, and nobody seems to care about that," he said. "Only thing people want to do is incriminate me, make me look like the bad guy."

Thompson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture had tracked the situation at the plant for some time and condemned some meat as long ago as March, prohibiting it from being sold.

Thompson said the rotting meat led to "a huge fly problem" outside the building on Main Street in Exeter, a community of about 750. He said a DNR advance team that went to the site Friday night determined that bacteria associated with the decaying meet was producing 60 parts per million of ammonia vapor Friday night.

"From a worker standpoint, you should not be exposed to ammonia vapor at 25 to 35 parts per million," Thompson said. "That's why the subcontractor for this cleanup had his workers wearing respirators while they were driving the Bobcats and front-end loaders."

Thompson said he recommended to the DNR legal staff that the building be condemned and torn down. Jim Gardner of the attorney general's office said he was not aware of any further pending legal action against Jacobs.

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