Tina McClellan is a strong outdoorsy woman, whose cozy home in central Utah is decorated with trophies of game that she and her husband have taken. She is also a federal meat inspector at the Norbest turkey plant in Moroni, Utah. If you ask Tina, she’ll tell you, she trusts the meat of wild elk more than the turkey produced at the plant where she used to work as an inspector with the USDA’s Federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Tina left her government job because her health had deteriorated due to chemical exposure at the plant. She had been breathing peracetic acid (PAA), an anti-microbial agent that is sprayed on raw turkey during processing. The chemical is intended to be used in well-ventilated areas. Various tests done at the plant came to the same conclusion: the ventilation is inadequate.
FSIS and the management at Norbest have determined that those who have experienced respiratory trouble, nosebleeds, nausea, rashes, and various other symptoms that correspond to chemical exposure, are hypersensitive, ignoring a growing awareness that PAA exposure poses a real health threat. Moreover, measuring PAA in the air is difficult because it breaks down quickly, and that the accepted limits must, therefore, be reconsidered. Instead of providing inspectors with breathing masks, as would be required if PAA were to be determined to be dangerous, FSIS relocates employees who complain—either temporarily or permanently.
Tina was sent to other facilities on several occasions after complaining of the health impacts she and her co-workers experienced. Frustrated that nothing was being done to properly address the problem, she pursued legal remedies. While she awaits her legal outcomes, she has found work to keep her family afloat.
As of late 2018 – over a year since Tina McClellan was forced to leave her job – nothing significant has been done to fix the ventilation or improve conditions for employees.
Like her coworker and friend Jessie Robertson, Tina was a focus of a lengthy investigative story from the Intercept in July of 2018. Although the problems they disclosed have not been resolved, the article brought attention to the issues they raised that may yet result in genuine solutions.