Alabama authorities are investigating a Tyson Foods wastewater spill that released toxic levels of E. coli bacteria into the Black Warrior River, killing fish populations and posing a health threat to humans and pets.

According to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), Tyson Foods Inc.’s River Valley Ingredients plant in Hanceville, Alabama, released up to 800,000 gallons of partially treated anaerobic lagoon water. The release occurred when a pipe used to transfer wastewater from one holding pond to another broke.

The wastewater entered a nearby spring and flowed into Mulberry Fork, a tributary of the Black Warrior River. ADEM believes the oxygen-deficient wastewater suffocated the fish. The agency said that it found depressed oxygen levels and pathogens about 22 miles downstream of the Tyson facility. Dead fish were carried downstream about 40 miles from the source.

In a June 11 letter to Steve Patrick, senior director of Environmental Services at Tyson Foods’ headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas, ADEM requested specific details about the wastewater release and measures the company will implement to prevent future occurrences.

“ADEM reiterates the extremely serious nature and severity of this incident and will make a final determination upon review of all available information,” the letter stated.

The Black Warrior Riverkeeper, an environmental group that protects the Black Warrior River and its tributaries, said Wednesday that water samples collected approximately 28 miles downstream of the spill showed high levels E. coli. The organization warned that people and pets should avoid contacting the water in the Mulberry Fork.

“We continue to recommend that people and their pets avoid swimming, fishing, drinking, or otherwise coming into contact with the water in the Mulberry Fork for the time being,” the Riverkeeper said in an update on social media.

A Tyson Foods representative told The Cullman Tribune that it is cooperating with ADEM and working to “make things right,” including removing the fish killed in the spill from the river and other clean-up measures.

According to WBMA Birmingham, Chris Greene with the state fisheries department says that a conservative estimate of the number of fish killed is 175,000. He called the spill and its effects on the river “significant” and said it would take some time to replenish the river.

Beasley Allen investigates cases of water contamination linked to corporate pollution. Lawyers are currently representing city, town and county governments whose water systems are affected by PFC chemicals, as well as cases of groundwater contamination from leaking underground fuel storage tanks. Contact us if you feel you have a claim.

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