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News / Northwest

Animal-rendering plant might reopen on Tacoma Tideflats

Some residents concerned about odors from facility

By Becca Most, The News Tribune
Published: December 26, 2023, 7:38pm

TACOMA — The Port of Tacoma is discussing extending the lease of a controversial animal-rendering plant on the Tideflats, which closed after a fire in 2022 and has been the source of putrid smells nearby for years.

The lease for the Darling International Plant, 2041 Marc Ave., expires Sept. 30, 2028, according to Carol Bua, a spokesperson with the port. Negotiations are underway to extend the lease and allow the company to rebuild in its current location. Bua said it is common practice for a company to negotiate a lease extension in advance when the company is planning to make an investment into building a new facility.

“All lease negotiations with Port tenants are confidential, and we are not able to provide much detail at this time,” said Port of Tacoma Executive Director Eric Johnson in an email to the News Tribune. “Port Commissioners will be discussing this lease renewal in public session at a Commission meeting sometime in the first quarter of 2024.”

In recent years odor-control system failures at the plant have filled Tacoma with putrid smells and contributed to the long-lamented “Tacoma Aroma,” as previously reported by The News Tribune.

Darling International has also come under fire for a variety of environmental and safety issues. In 2022, the Tacoma plant was fined $2,000 for violating industrial wastewater discharge standards. Darling International has received Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaints regarding its Tacoma plant, and in 2020 the company was fined $75,000 for a plant explosion that killed two workers in Mississippi.

Melissa Malott, executive director of Communities for a Healthy Bay, has spoken in opposition to a lease renewal, advocating for the port to invest in more green energy companies and local startups instead.

Texas-based Darling Ingredients has leased the Tideflats property since 1971, according to director of global communications Jillian Fleming. Darling Ingredients uses byproducts from slaughtered livestock in the production of pharmaceuticals, food, pet food, feed fuel, bioenergy and organic fertilizer.

According to Darling Ingredients’ website, the company operates more than 270 facilities and employs over 14,000 people companywide. The company paid $39,057.07 in property taxes on the Tacoma property in 2023, according to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s website.

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“We plan to construct a new facility with similar processing capacity and enhanced emission controls, including upgraded and upsized air scrubber technology and structural air seals,” Fleming said. “Darling Ingredients strives to be a good corporate citizen and neighbor in every community where we operate.”

If a new lease is approved, like any port tenant, Darling International Plant would be required to obtain all necessary permits before beginning operation, including an air permit from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, Johnson said.

Port staff are in the process of gathering information to better understand what odor-mitigation technology is available, Johnson said.

“I can tell you that we share the public’s concerns about odor from this facility,” he said in an email.

Opposition to opening

In 2019 when an equipment failure at the Tacoma plant caused a plume of noxious odors to hang over the city, Malott remembers gagging while inside her office, which is about a mile away from Darling Ingredients.

“Tacoma was drenched in the putrid smell of death,” she said. “The smell comes from a chemical called methanethiol. It is the most putrid compound on the planet. It’s the smell that comes from rotting bodies, and the human nose picks it up at really small amounts.”

Malott said given Darling Ingredient’s history of compliance issues and environmental violations, she doesn’t think its lease should be renewed or the company should be allowed to rebuild in Tacoma.

Malott said she worries that reopening would exacerbate community health issues, including at the nearby Northwest Detention Center, which she said is already exposed to pollution and diesel emissions at a disproportionate rate compared to other areas in the city.

“As people talk about, ‘What types of companies do we want to have here in Tacoma?’ and as we’re talking about a green economy strategy and wanting to have startups … Is this really the type of company that we want to have here?” Malott said.

Although Malott said she understands the need for processing plants, “we don’t have to have them in an urban place,” she said.

“We have been kind of the collateral damage zone of this region. And we have the health impacts to prove it,” Malott said. “People who live in that I-705 Corridor next to the Foss and the Dome District, they live on average 25 years shorter lives than people in other parts of Tacoma. And there is no doubt that a big part of that is environmental.”