Virginia Mercury

Poultry plants are protecting workers

To the Mercury:

Your recent article (Bill requiring public reporting of major outbreaks still alive, but Senate nixes emergency enactment) concerning a bill requiring the Virginia Department of Health to report COVID-19 “clusters” at Virginia worksites does not paint a complete picture of the poultry industry’s success in stopping the spread of COVID-19.  

In presenting his bill on the Senate floor, Sen. Lynwood Lewis acknowledged the successful measures poultry plants implemented to reduce spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Those measures have been more effective than many realize.

(Virginia Poultry Federation/ Delmarva Chicken Association)

Since the outset of the pandemic, the U.S. poultry industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to protect its workforce. Poultry plants across Virginia took significant and unprecedented steps to protect workers from the COVID-19 pandemic, both while they are at work and in the community. Following CDC, OSHA, and VDH guidance, and subsequently the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry standards, plants increased cleaning and sanitation; improved ventilation, health monitoring and temperature checks; required use of face masks or shields; allowed for social distancing in common areas, such as break rooms, and on the production line when possible; installed plastic dividers between workstations; and educated employees about the virus and how to avoid catching it. Poultry plants have also provided additional compensation and paid sick leave for frontline workers. Presently, poultry plants are working with VDH to schedule vaccination clinics for essential workers that wish to receive a vaccine.

Little-noticed monthly reports from VDH on COVID-19 cases associated with processing plants tell a tale of an industry winning the battle against COVID-19. The monthly tally of COVID cases associated with meat and poultry processing facilities fell 98 percent between May 2020 and January 2021, according to VDH. That clear success in stopping the disease’s spread inside our plants happened while Virginia’s statewide COVID-19 monthly case count multiplied fivefold, from 28,761 new cases in May to 155,195 new cases in January. Last month, just 12 cases — 0.008 percent of the state’s new COVID-19 infections — were associated with processing plants, according to VDH. The greatest reduction in cases among poultry workers had occurred by June, before the commonwealth adopted its Emergency Temporary Standard for COVID-19 in late July.  

These trends match encouraging signs across the U.S.’s important poultry industry. New analysis of independent data by the Food & Environment Reporting Network show that reported new COVID-19 infection rates among meat and poultry workers are now 60 percent lower than in the general U.S. population, and two-thirds lower than case rates in the sector were in May 2020. 

It is ironic that some point to the poultry industry as the reason for this legislation, when in reality the poultry sector is unmatched in its implementation of workplace protections and has substantially reduced COVID-19’s prevalence in our workplaces. We are not aware of an industry sector that has done more to protect its workers or been more transparent about the results of that work.  

Hobey Bauhan, president, Virginia Poultry Federation

Holly Porter, executive Director, Delmarva Chicken Association

 Perfuming the pig

To the Mercury:
Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal is getting closer to state approval of a mega-landfill in Cumberland County and is trying hard to put a favorable spin on the project through a series of press releases in local newspapers. But there’s an age-old question: What do you have after you’ve perfumed a pig? The answer is of course “a pig.”
Green Ridge approaches a small rural community and offers them a pot of gold to pay off debts and fix stuff that resulted from poor county management. In exchange, the multinational company is allowed to buy a large plot of pristine land (1,200 acres) to build a dump, offers a few homeowners money for their homes and to keep their mouths shut, to which they gladly accept.
Then, if the company gets an OK from the state, they dig a big hole where they spread some clay material, pipes and a rubber-like material for a liner and start to fill the hole with the waste from households 500 miles away. Filling the hole is accomplished by hundreds of trucks delivering the waste throughout the night on rural country roads, where noise, air, light and water pollution create problems for thousands of residents for miles around. Local hunting of deer, rabbit and squirrel no longer exists and where vermin-like sea gulls and rodents feed on the abundant leftovers. This process continues for 30 years or possibly longer if the additional portion of purchased land is pressed into service. Then what started as a 35 foot hole is now a 200 to 300 foot mountain of trash that is covered with some man-made material and ultimately with dirt. The mountain remains for a thousand years, the contaminants in the mountain leaches into soil for millennia and the multinational company moves on to offer a pot of gold to another money-hungry, unsuspecting, poorly managed county.
For this we are supposed to be grateful!
Don Silberbauer, Powhatan

Landfill isn’t a done deal

To the Mercury: 

The proposed mega landfill in Cumberland County is not a done deal — far from it. This major project requires permit approvals by the Department of Environmental Quality and approvals from other agencies.

Here are a few facts to remember:

  •  Cumberland County Board of Supervisors approved the Host Agreement on August 2,
    2018 after a whirlwind approval process taking less than 35 days.
  • Green Ridge did not submit the Notice of Intent and Part A application until January 20,
    2020.
  •  DEQ had to request additional information from Green Ridge.

There’s are more steps to come including public hearings and technical review. Don’t give up. This is the best advice I can give to the citizens of Cumberland, Powhatan and surrounding counties. This is not just a local issue for Cumberland and Powhatan counties, but a statewide issue. Do we need more trash in our state, when we are already known as the “Trash State?” Do we need an industry that is going to cause harm to our residents such as is occurring in Charles City, Petersburg and along the Dan River? Do we need an industry that endangers our wetlands, ground and surface water, and wildlife? And most importantly, would you want this proposed mega landfill in your back yard? The 2021 General Assembly is in session. Contact your delegates, senators and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and ask them to support legislation
supporting our environment like SB1319. We have only one environment and it is our duty and responsibility to protect it. This proposed landfill’s effects will be felt from our small county to many areas across the commonwealth.

Betty Myers, Cartersville