'We don’t think this was an accident'

Posted 6/14/19

SIPSEY — Approximately 75 concerned citizens from around the county gathered at the Sipsey Christian Church Thursday night to express outrage at the recent contamination of the Mulberry Fork by …

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'We don’t think this was an accident'


SIPSEY — Approximately 75 concerned citizens from around the county gathered at the Sipsey Christian Church Thursday night to express outrage at the recent contamination of the Mulberry Fork by River Valley Ingredients (Tyson Farms Inc.) in Hanceville.

Martha Salomaa of the Sipsey Heritage Commission was one of the facilitators, along with Jasper attorney Jud Allen who also owns a home on the water near the Mulberry Fork. “The community is organizing and we’re done with this kind of behavior out of Tyson,” Salomaa said. “We don’t think this was an accident.”

“We’ve looked back through their history and we think they are serial polluters that keeps getting away with it,” she said. Salomaa found documents where the company leaked contaminants through the month of May, according to Salomaa. “We’re going to take our river back,” she said. The group intends to file a lawsuit but they also want to get with our elected officials and start a campaign to make some changes so that companies get shut down when they pollute.

“This is not just an attorney thing for me, it touches my house,” Allen said. He gave the group a brief summary of the incident that was reported on June 6 and talked about previous instances when the company polluted the Mulberry Fork.

Allen opened the floor to the audience and many voiced outrage at how this incident has impacted their river. People expressed concern for the drinking water, the loss of thousands of fish, endangered species, and quality of life on the river.

“You wouldn’t believe how many dead fish came down that river,” Nathan Parnell of Sipsey said. “I think they need to be put out of business if they don’t clean their place up,” he said.

One of the things that Salomaa would like to pursue is for the group can do is to join forces and file lawsuits against River Valley Ingredients (Tyson Farms Inc.). Based on the feedback from the citizens who attended the meeting on Thursday night, many want to join in a lawsuit to try and force the company to either stop polluting or put them out of business.

What follows is a summary of the incident on June 6 and statements from River Valley Ingredients, ADEM, and the Black Warrior Riverkeepers.

River Valley Ingredients released a statement that read in part:

"We deeply regret the incident on the Mulberry Fork, near Hanceville, Alabama. We’ve been working diligently and cooperatively with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. We are working to make things right, and have an environmental contractor onsite and in the waterways, actively working on clean-up and the collection of fish impacted by this incident.”

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management released a statement that read:

“A release of partially treated wastewater from River Valley Ingredients (Tyson Farms Inc.) in Hanceville was reported to ADEM on Thursday (6/6). The release was reportedly due to the failure of an above-ground hose/pipe that was being used to pump the partially treated wastewater from one holding pond to another holding pond.

ADEM and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) were on scene and monitoring the impacted streams on Thursday (6/6) through Monday (6/10). ADEM collected water quality data at numerous locations that documented depressed levels of dissolved oxygen, which is believed to be the main reason for fish mortality. ADCNR collected data on the overall number of fish killed along with the different types of fish species.

ADEM documented depressed levels of dissolved oxygen on the Mulberry Fork beginning at the River Valley Ingredients facility and extending approximately twenty-two (22) miles downstream. ADEM also documented elevated levels of pathogens downstream of the facility.

Dead fish were observed as far as forty (40) miles downstream of the facility due to them being washed downstream as a result of recent rains and river flow.

Recent rains have aided in the recovery of water quality and dissolved oxygen levels have now returned to normal conditions.

River Valley Ingredients has hired an emergency response contractor to recover as much of the released wastewater as possible. In addition, since ADCNR has completed their assessment of the number / species of fish killed, an emergency response contractor has begun to collect dead fish for proper disposal.

It is important to note that ADEM is in the process of compiling all of the data / information that was collected over the past five (5) days and will generate a comprehensive report of its investigative activities. 

A decision on appropriate enforcement actions will be made upon a full review of the comprehensive report and all other available information.”

The Black Warrior Riverkeeper which is an environmental group that is an advocate for area rivers released an updated statement that said:

“Tyson fish kill update: water samples taken on Monday afternoon (6/10/2019) by Black Warrior Riverkeeper at the confluence of the Sipsey and Mulberry Forks, approximately 28 miles downstream of the spill at the rendering facility owned by Tyson Foods in Hanceville, returned results for E. coli of nearly 600 col./100mL, double the maximum amount allowed by the state of Alabama in surface waters during the summer recreation season. 

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. Please join us in encouraging anyone concerned to file complaints with ADEM and DCNR, and encourage them to levy stiff penalties for Tyson’s massive fish kill.”

The Riverkeepers also encouraged citizens to reach out elected officials about this issue.

District 13 representative Connie Rowe of Jasper said, “I’ve spoken with several residents in the area and am deeply concerned about the environmental impact of the spill. This isn’t the first time the river has suffered at the hands of industry and I’m doubtful it’ll be the last. 

We need to immediately solve this issue and look at long term prevention. Everybody loves the river. It’s an incredible and beautiful natural resource. We’ve got to act at the level of its importance to our county.”