Release probed at Tyson facility

Dead fish linked to Alabama spill

A rendering plant owned by Tyson Foods Inc. is under investigation after a wastewater spill into an Alabama river that caused a fish kill as far as 40 miles from the plant, officials said.

The spill, found June 6 on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River in Hanceville, reportedly happened at the River Valley Ingredients plant when a pipe failed to properly transfer partially-treated wastewater from one holding pond to another, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said. Hanceville is about 40 miles north of Birmingham.

Fieldworkers assessed streams earlier this month, collecting water samples that indicated low levels of dissolved oxygen. Low oxygen was reported on the Mulberry Fork starting at the River Valley Ingredients plant and continued downstream 22 miles. Elevated pathogen levels were also reported.

"We deeply regret the incident," a spokesman with Tyson said Wednesday. In response to the spill, Tyson hired an environmental contractor to help with cleanup and worked with the Alabama environmental department and its Conservation and Natural Resources Department.

"Following our clean-up efforts, the Mulberry Fork and Sipsey Fork are now available for public recreation," Worth Sparkman, a Tyson spokesman, said in an email Wednesday.

It was not the first spill from the facility. The plant, formerly owned by American Proteins, released at least 80,000 gallons of wastewater in the summer of 2015, according to documents with the Alabama environmental department. A year later, the same plant released 900 gallons of sulfuric acid into the river, which killed fish along a 1.55 mile stretch. American Proteins paid a civil penalty of $50,000 for both incidents, records show.

"The fine levied by [the Alabama Department of Environmental Management] for that spill and kill was a mere slap on the wrist," said Nelson Brooke of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit founded to protect the river watershed from pollution problems.

"[The department] is responsible for holding American Proteins accountable for the spill, and should levy a stiff penalty to encourage better housekeeping and deter future spills and fish kills," Brooke said in a Facebook post about the plant's latest spill.

Tyson Foods bought the plant in May 2018 when it acquired rendering and blending assets from American Proteins Inc. and AMPRO Products Inc. for $850 million. The Hanceville plant processes carcasses into feather and chicken byproduct meals. Former President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Hayes saw the purchase as vital to meeting Tyson's sustainability goals.

"Through this important business, no part of the animal goes to waste, and we can recycle valuable ingredients into feed for pets and aquaculture," Hayes said in a news release May 15, 2018.

Earlier that year Tyson had to pay $2.5 million in fine and restitution for an acid spill in Monett, Mo., that killed fish along Clear Creek in 2014, the U.S. Justice Department said in February. Under the plea deal, Tyson agreed to let an independent auditor examine its poultry operations nationwide, conduct environmental training and implement policies and procedures to prevent similar occurrences from happening again.

Dead fish have been seen as far as 40 miles downstream from the River Valley Ingredients plant because of recent rain and river flow, the Alabama environmental department said Tuesday. Recent rainfall has also helped improve water quality and returned dissolved oxygen levels to normal levels. Contractors have been hired to collect dead fish for proper disposal.

Damon Abernathy, assistant chief of fisheries with Alabama's conservation department, said most of the fish in the affected area were killed but couldn't say how many.

"This was a very significant and widespread fish kill where direct counts of dead fish were not possible," Abernathy said in an email. "All the data is currently being compiled and analyzed for the report."

Information and data gathered from the river over a five-day span is being used for the comprehensive report. Enforcement actions will be made upon review of the investigative report and other available information, Alabama's environmental and conservation agencies said.

Sparkman said Tyson will be seeking Alabama's guidance on the company's long-term remediation efforts and, once a course of action has been decided, will be sharing plans with the affected community.

Business on 06/13/2019