Mary Jo Wilhelm

Mary Jo Wilhelm

The legislature is passing new liability protections for county landfills that accept the dead carcasses from poultry operations that have been hit by bird flu.

Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm, a Democrat from Cresco, says it’s a protection for county taxpayers who would have to pick up the tab if their local landfill is sued.

“If they take on the responsibility of accepting these birds, that if they follow Homeland Security, DNR, federal regs, if somebody wants to sue them for whatever reason, they’re not going to be held responsible because they’re following all the rules,” Wilhelm says.

The issue is being addressed in a budget bill that outlines spending for the Iowa Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Legislators are also asking landfills to submit a report to the state next year, detailing the volume of bird carcasses buried and the fees charged by the landfill. Wilhelm says it’s a check against excessive landfill charges.

“The feds are paying for the tipping fees,” Wilhelm says, “and so we don’t want to have them take advantage of, drastically increasing the tipping fees.”

More than 30 million chickens and turkeys have had to be killed in Iowa due to the bird flu outbreak.All of the turkeys and some chickens are being composted in their barns. Some dead chickens are being buried just outside on the farms. Some are being burned and others are being shipped to landfills.

A large incinerator at a landfill near Cherokee is currently burning about seven loads of dead birds a day, with plans to increase capacity in the coming days. A privately-owned landfill near Malvern and a county landfill near Sheldon are burying “bio-secure” bags of the dead chickens. Officials with Polk County’s landfill have indicated a willingness to make bird burials, too, but to date none have been taken there.

The legislature’s new liability protection for landfills would not apply to the landfill near Malvern, but would apply to the other two county-owned landfills.