CAMERON — A Clinton County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the owners of a St. Joseph tannery from destroying documents related to lawsuits over sludge it gave to farmers in northwest Missouri.
Lawyers for two people who have sued the St. Joseph tannery contend that National Beef Leathers, the current owner of the tannery, had ordered that documents be destroyed.
According to court records, Judge R. Brent Elliott issued the order Wednesday in a lawsuit against National Beef Leathers and Prime Tanning Corp., the previous owner of the tannery. He set a hearing date of July 14.
The tannery is the focus of lawsuits and investigations over whether the sludge it distributed to farmers in four northwest Missouri counties for more than 20 years contained hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.
The plaintiffs allege the hexavalent chromium caused them or family members to contract brain tumors.
According to a motion filed Tuesday, National Beef Leathers has 80 pallets of documents stored at Brown Transfer & Storage in St. Joseph. As recently as Monday, tannery officials ordered the storage company to destroy all documents from Prime Tanning Corp., the motion said.
National Beef Leathers in Kansas City said in a written statement Thursday that shortly after it bought the plant on March 9 it asked the storage company to begin discarding the documents. The company said the papers were old and not being used.
But once it learned of the lawsuit, National Beef Leathers asked the storage company not to destroy the documents, the company said. National Beef Leathers did not say if any documents were destroyed before that time.
"We take the allegations made in these cases seriously, we have responded to them appropriately and responsibly, and we will continue to do so," the company said.
Brian Madden of Wagstaff & Cartmell, who filed the motion, did not return a phone call.
After the lawsuit was filed last week, National Beef said it had found no problems at the plant before buying it, but was conducting its own investigation. A statement from Prime Tanning said there was no basis for the lawsuit.
When the lawsuit was filed, Madden asked National Beef Leathers to retain all relevant documents. But Madden received information Tuesday from the storage company that Prime Tanning wanted the documents destroyed, according to the motion.