Tyson Fish Kill

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Tyson Fish Kill

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 8/11/21 update: Our statement on today’s Tyson pollution settlement: “The state of Alabama’s $3M settlement with Tyson over the June 2019 wastewater spill at their Hanceville rendering plant and the resulting Mulberry Fork fish kill is certainly a better outcome than ADEM could have arrived at on their own. However, it was our hope that Tyson would be fined a minimum of $10M, with the majority of the money going toward restoration and conservation of the resource most affected by this tragedy: the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. While it remains to be seen what the $1.5M will be spent on in Cullman and Walker counties, no portion of that amount can possibly provide adequate retribution for the river and its inhabitants. As the watchdog for the river, we should have been consulted regarding adequate compensation for the river and more meaningful accountability for Tyson, one of the river’s largest polluters. Black Warrior Riverkeeper will continue to keep watch over Tyson’s operations and push for more stringent enforcement of environmental laws in Alabama.” To read the settlement, visit: alabamaag.gov/Documents/news/Tyson%20Mulberry%20Fork%20Settlement.pdf

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 5/4/20 update: On April 29, 2020, the Alabama Attorney General sued Tyson Farms, Inc. over the June 6, 2019 spill of 220,000 gallons of anaerobic wastewater into Dave Young Spring and the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River. The spill killed wildlife and over 175,000 fish, fouling the Mulberry so completely that it became unusable for over 50 miles downstream. The Attorney General sued on behalf of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The lawsuit alleges violations of Tyson’s wastewater discharge permit and the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act, seeking injunctive relief and penalties for these violations. The suit also seeks compensatory damages for the injuries and loss caused by the wastewater spill, claiming that the spill and resulting damage constitute trespass and nuisance. In addition to compensatory damages, the suit seeks to recover punitive damages from Tyson. Punitive damages are damages awarded as punishment for reckless behavior. The Attorney General asks for the payment of attorneys’ fees and costs incurred as a result of bringing the suit. The Attorney General (not ADEM) has filed the suit because state law provides that the “Attorney General shall represent the department in any and all legal actions brought by the department to enforce any provisions of [the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act….]”  Here is a link to the lawsuit: https://blackwarriorriver.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AlabamaVsTyson.pdf.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 4/29/20 update: We learned this afternoon that the Alabama Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit today against Tyson Farms in Walker County.  We are currently reviewing the filing regarding Tyson’s June 5, 2019 wastewater spill and resulting fish kill in the Mulberry Fork.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 10/22/19 update: We have been regularly checking ADEM’s website since our 9/9/19 update, including today, and there is no new information regarding ADEM’s investigation, findings, or enforcement.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 9/9/19 update: Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke created a Google map showing ADEM’s 6/6-13 river survey and sampling locations:

ADEM investigated water quality conditions in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River immediately following Tyson’s 6/6/19 wastewater spill and fish kill.  From ADEM’s most recent report, which was just put on their website in the last couple weeks, we learned that ADEM initially monitored the Mulberry Fork from 6/6-10/19.  ADEM found alarmingly high levels (over 30 times the state level considered safe for swimming/contact) of e. coli bacteria in the Mulberry Fork downstream of the Tyson spill on 6/6 and 6/7/19.  ADEM never released those sample results to the public until recently — over 2.5 months later — despite the fact that Black Warrior Riverkeeper, the public, and the media were asking for this very information over the weeks and months that followed the spill.

Instead of immediately notifying the public, particularly downstream communities, of unsafe levels of e. coli, ADEM withheld their e. coli findings.  Amidst public outcry over the lack of adequate public notification about the spill and ADEM’s findings, ADEM went back out and sampled the Mulberry Fork at 6 locations on 6/13 and “immediately” released their e. coli findings on the following day – 6/14 (albeit after 5pm on a Friday).  Those sample results all yielded e. coli levels within the safe recreation range.  Problem is, the slug of bad water from the spill had already migrated downriver of ADEM’s most downstream sample location #6 (“Linn Park downstream”) by 6/11 per Riverkeeper patrol observations, so the 6/13 ADEM sample trip did not include the necessary downriver locations to answer everyone’s questions about where the spill had migrated to, and if it was safe to swim & fish.

It is unfortunate ADEM did not provide adequate public notification in the days following the Tyson spill to inform the public and ensure people were not exposed to dangerous water.  It is time for ADEM to admit it is failing to perform its investigative and public notification duties.  It is time for ADEM to establish a robust public notification system for spills and other major incidents, and to institute a system of transparency to the public.

As of today, ADEM has still not announced its enforcement decision for the fish kill.  If people have questions or concerns about ADEM’s enforcement following Tyson’s spill of 220,000 gallons of wastewater, which killed over 175,000 fish, please contact ADEM’s Water Division Chief, Jeff Kitchens: [email protected]. To contact EPA’s Region 4 office in Atlanta, which oversees of ADEM: Water Protection (404) 562-9345 ; or Natalie Ellington (404) 562-9453 | [email protected]. To write elected officials with your concerns about Tyson’s spill and ADEM’s investigation: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 9/4/19 update: ADEM’s website now contains a new report on Tyson’s 6/6/19 wastewater spill and fish kill.  Among other things, the report shows that ADEM measured — but did not publicize — very high levels of E. coli in the Mulberry Fork shortly after the spill.  On June 6, ADEM measured E.coli in the river 6 miles below the spill at 9,678.4 MPN/dl (over 32 times greater than the maximum level allowed in swimming waters by ADEM).  On June 7, E. coli measured 10,462 MPN/dl (over 35 times the maximum level) 14 miles below the spill.  Despite these high E. coli concentrations in the river, ADEM did not sample for bacteria again until June 13, publishing those results unlike the prior ones.  As of today, ADEM has still not announced its enforcement decision for the fish kill.  If you have questions or concerns about ADEM’s enforcement following Tyson’s spill of 220,000 gallons of wastewater, please contact ADEM’s Water Division Chief, Jeff Kitchens: [email protected]

Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s 6/25/19 update regarding the wastewater spill at Tyson’s chicken rendering plant near Hanceville on 6/6/2019, and its downstream impacts, which included 175,000 dead fish by the State’s admittedly conservative estimate:

On 6/24, Black Warrior Riverkeeper took water samples at Copeland Ferry on the Mulberry Fork, and Franklin Ferry on the Black Warrior River just downstream of the confluence of the Locust and Mulberry Forks. After a 24 hour incubation period, the results showed approximately 17 col./100mL at both locations, well below the state of Alabama’s threshold deemed safe for recreation of 298 col./100mL. These results are good signs for those parts of the river, but this update is for informational purposes only and does not guarantee that the levels of bacteria are safe throughout the entire river system. As always, we recommend using your best judgment before deciding whether it is safe to swim, especially where water is a cloudy brown color, stinky, or carrying dead fish.

In general, levels of bacteria such as e. coli are often elevated after rain events (which was likely made much worse by the wastewater spill at Tyson’s plant), especially when river water is carrying more sediment than normal. We always advise using caution if you plan to paddle or swim after a rainstorm. Pay close attention to the color, clarity, and smell of the water. We recommend avoiding contact if the water is muddy, carrying scum/film/sheen on the surface, or has an unpleasant odor. If you are concerned about the water in your area, you can call a laboratory and ask how to take a sample to get your water tested.  A few options are:

Sutherland Environmental: sutherlandlab.com/
Pace Analytical Services: pacelabs.com/environmental-services.html
Environmental Resource Analysts: eralab.com/services.html

If you would like to test the water regularly at your residence, second home, or favorite place on the river, you can get certified to test the water yourself by taking a course with Alabama Water Watch (and make sure to register for a class that includes bacteriological testing): alabamawaterwatch.org/get-involved/get-certified-as-a-water-monitor/

ADEM’s most recent water quality data for the Mulberry Fork that we are aware of was published at 5:10 PM on Friday, 6/14 based on their sampling the previous day. The data is here: http://adem.alabama.gov/newsEvents/files/MulberryFork_SipseySamplingLocationAndResults.pdf and ADEM’s updates are here: http://adem.alabama.gov/newsEvents/files/MullberryForkFishKill.pdf. The new data from their 6/13 testing showed e. coli bacteria levels improving at the locations they tested, which we have mapped for people’s convenience here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1IulW-raEzu53rI1eY_99YyZYra7ktKyl&usp=sharing.

As shown on the map, the furthest point from the Tyson plant that ADEM tested on 6/13 (“Linn Park Downstream”) was upstream of Cordova, despite the fact that Black Warrior Riverkeeper observed Tyson’s slug of wastewater and dead fish downstream of Cordova on the afternoon of 6/11 (45 miles downstream of the spill site). Black Warrior Riverkeeper sampling in the Mulberry Fork, just upstream of its confluence with the Sipsey Fork, on 6/10 found e. coli bacteria at a little over twice the state’s maximum level (298 col./100 mL) for safe swimming. Sipsey Heritage Commission sampling in the Mulberry Fork and the Sipsey Fork on 6/13 showed significant levels of e. coli bacteria over 17 times the state’s maximum.

Since there was no bacteria testing by ADEM in the Mulberry Fork downstream of Cordova where the spill had already migrated, given conflicting bacteria data between ADEM and Sipsey Heritage Commission, and lacking any further ADEM sampling data since 6/14, we have been recommending that people and their pets exercise caution when considering whether to swim in the Mulberry Fork or the Bankhead Lake section of the Black Warrior River for the time being, especially where water is a cloudy brown color, stinky, or carrying dead fish. While our 6/25 sampling results at Copeland Ferry and Franklin Ferry, mentioned above, are good signs of the river’s improvement in those locations, we reiterate our general caution about the river after big rains, and that you always avoid water that is a cloudy brown color, stinky, or carrying dead fish.

Documents regarding the Tyson spill and fish kill can be found on ADEM’s eFile site: http://app.adem.alabama.gov/eFile/ (Media Area: choose “Water” / Facility: click on Master ID, enter: 892, then click on Search). Documents will appear below, and can be downloaded one at a time.

We continue to encourage anyone concerned to file complaints with ADEM, urging them to levy stiff penalties for Tyson: [email protected] (Brad Stearns). Also, please write elected officials to complain about Tyson’s spill: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

If you have good pictures of the fish kill, please email them to Black Warrior Riverkeeper: [email protected]. To view Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s fish kill photos from 6/11, click here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/oo2eoqct87ai8nj/AADYZRjl0W36ZrAzSqyyf1cQa?dl=0

If you have questions about the safety of your drinking water, please contact your local water provider listed on your water bill. Finally, if you have questions about swimming and fishing safety, please contact your county’s department of health (and/or the Alabama Department of Public Health):

Cullman County Health Department
(256) 734-1030

Blount County Health Department
(205) 274-2120

Walker County Health Department
(205) 221-9775

Jefferson County Department of Health
(205) 933-9110

Alabama Department of Public Health
(800) 252-1818

Please note that this Tyson facility on the Mulberry Fork is not the same as the Tyson facility on the Locust Fork which has a Clean Water Act permit up for public comment between now and July 12. To learn more about that permit and to take action, visit blackwarriorriver.org/tyson-locust-fork-permit/

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