DES MOINES, Iowa – Nick Lestina made a frightening discovery at his Bagley home this month.
Five inches of animal blood, fat and tissue from a neighboring meat locker had seeped into the basement through a floor drain, creating a scene worthy of a Halloween movie.
“Some things you just think you’ll never see,” Lestina said.
Lestina, a father of five, has lived next door to Dahl’s Custom Meat Locker for 10 years. He said there was never a problem until Oct. 3, when he stopped home to pick up a power drill and noticed his sump pump spewing red liquid.
Two weeks later, the blood is still seeping into the basement and the Iowa Department of Public Health told the family it’s not safe to live in the home.
They are staying with relatives in Panora until the mess can be cleaned up.
“I’ve had a company come out for cleaning and sanitizing, but they can’t start that process until it stops coming up the drain,” Lestina said. “I’ve been talking to different excavation people. It hasn’t been a promising deal. I need dry weather.”
In spite of everything, Lestina says his family is lucky in one regard: The unfinished basement is mostly used for storing holiday decorations and a couple children’s beds. He hasn’t gone through to see if anything can be salvaged yet.
“It smelled like a meat processing facility when I entered the house,” said Iowa Department of Natural Resources senior environment specialist Keith Wilken.
Wilken was called in to investigate the source of the bio waste, which he traced to the meat locker. He said owner Kaitlin Dahl showed him the kill room where she had flushed blood down the floor drains Oct. 3 after killing hogs and cattle.
The DNR investigator dropped fluorescent dye into the kill room drain and 10 minutes later the dye appeared in Lestina’s basement.
The floor drains in both buildings are connected to the same tile line. A clog in the line most likely caused the blood to back up into the home.
Wilken said tile lines typically discharge into surface water, but he has not been able to track down where this particular tile line ends.
“It’s obviously plugged or broken right now,” he said. “But discharging animal blood or animal fat would be illegal.”
Wilken worked with the meat locker to eliminate any additional discharge. The company has cemented-in floor drains and is pumping bio waste from the kill floor into a 1,100-gallon tank.
“A contractor will pump that waste and dispose of it properly,” Wilken said.
Kaitlin and Jared Dahl purchased the meat locker in April after working in the business for several years. The meat locker butchers animals, including cattle, hogs, goats, chickens and hunters’ game.
“We didn’t change a thing from the previous owner,” Kaitlin Dahl said. “Everything was signed off on and was up to regulations so we didn’t think there were any issues.”
The company is inspected through the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and its plumbing was inspected by Guthrie County Sanitation in March and May, according to the owners.
Kaitlin Dahl said the company uses a catch drain to capture most of the blood during the butchering process. That blood is emptied into an offal barrel and taken away by a rendering truck.
“When you split a bone in half, there will be some excess blood that will drip on that floor,” she said. “That was allowed by the county to go down the back drain.”
Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship communications director Keely Coppess said the agency’s inspections do not cover waste disposal.
“We go in and check that the animals are healthy and make sure the meat is in good condition,” Coppess said.
Lestina said the cleanup will be around $2,000.
“That’s going to eat up the insurance right there,” he said. “I also got a quote from a plumber at $2,300 for the sump pump and the water heater since the pump, which is only 3 months old, had a bunch of animal fat run through it.”
He said the meat locker’s owners reached out to offer help with the cleanup costs Wednesday, after the story appeared on TV and in the Des Moines Register.
“I don’t know if there’s been a change of heart,” Lestina said. “Now, they are reaching out and wanting to help.”
Kaitlin Dahl told the Register that her company always intended to help with the family’s cleanup costs.
“We don’t want to harm anybody. We’re not bad people. We’re trying to make a living, not enemies,” she said.
Lestina said he hopes the issue can be resolved without ending up in a courtroom.
“I just want to move back into my house,” he said. “I’m not looking for a pity party. I just want them to take responsibility for what’s been caused. I feel that’s fair.”
Follow Gage Miskimen on Twitter: @GageMisky
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