Kansas native Erin Brockovich to Tyson Foods: ‘Clean up your act’

Erin Brockovich
Erin Brockovich Pete Marovich/MCT

A high-profile native Kansan is weighing in on the proposal to build a Tyson Foods poultry plant in Tonganoxie, Kan.:

“I often struggle with how I can help in communities facing the hired guns from giant corporations... and the false promises of jobs... toting along paid off politicians,” wrote Erin Brockovich, a lawyer and environmental activist who lives in California.

Brockovich earned national acclaim when she built a legal case claiming the Pacific Gas and Electric Company was contaminating drinking water in California.

Tyson officials, along with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, recently announced plans to build a $320 million poultry complex that would bring an estimated 1,600 jobs by 2019.

But some citizens of the town have been skeptical of the development, and now they have Brockovich in their corner.

A film bearing her name was released in 2000. Actress Julia Roberts portrayed Brockovich.

The proposed Tyson plant in Tonganoxie is about 15 miles from Lawrence, where Brockovich was born.

“I was born and raised in Kansas... now living in California... where I too have been receiving pollution and environmental complaints about Tyson Foods for over a decade,” she wrote.

She added mothers from Tonganoxie have sent her photographs of their children playing at a local ball field, “blocks from the location of the proposed slaughter house.”

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.

Brockovich excoriated Tyson Foods, writing that the company dumps millions in toxic chemicals into American waterways each year.

The Wasting Our Waterways report, composed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2012, listed seven Tyson Foods plants among the top 50 facilities releasing the most toxic chemicals, including the fourth- and 12th-worst plants.

In 2014, Tyson discharged 20 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways, more than the volume of Exxon Mobil or Dupont, according to data reported by the federal Toxics Release Inventory.

“Clean up (your) act if you want respect,” Brockovich wrote, “get off the list of our nation's biggest polluters... and then come talk to us... until then... you cannot continue to grow on the backs of the people.”

Most responses to her post were supportive of Brockovich’s message.

“Tonganoxie is fighting against Tyson with all our might but we are a small town and need help,” wrote one woman

Wrote another: “Our families don't want our environment to be ruined. We live on well water roughly 7 miles from here. My children and I play in the creek that runs on our property. We have a pond. Our community will be destroyed. Please help us. We need every voice we can get.”

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg