Tyson plant vows 'to make this right'

Negotiations continue with state after spill


By Ed Howell, Daily Mountain Eagle (AL)

August 10, 2019


An official with Tyson Foods' plant in Hanceville said in an open letter Friday the company is working hard "to make this right" in the wake of a spill that killed fish in the Black Warrior River, and that it is negotiating with state agencies on conservation and community projects it may perform now.


The letter was released to "residents of Hanceville and the surrounding area" by Shane Parks, senior vice president of River Valley Ingredients, which is owned by Tyson Foods. Tyson has come under fire since the the recent spill that caused a fish kill in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.


The spill goes back to an incident on June 6 when a pipe failure at the River Valley Ingredients plant located near Hanceville led to dumping several hundred thousands of gallons of partially treated liquid waste/sewage into the Dave Young Creek, which flows to the Mulberry Fork. The pollution caused a massive fish kill in the Mulberry Fork.


Edward F. Poolos of Jasper, deputy commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said recently, "Our estimation is that it is going to be a five-year window for natural attenuation to get (the river) back to pre-spill conditions."


Lawsuits have been filed over the incident by area residents, and Conservation is in negotiations with Tyson on holding the firm accountable for its actions.


Parks said in the letter, "On June 6, our River Valley Ingredients facility experienced an accidental release of wastewater due to a mechanical failure in temporary piping installed by a contractor. Since that time, there has been a lot of information shared through both traditional and social media. A great deal happened quickly but not all facts were apparent. While we provided early comments to news media, I want to directly provide area residents with some additional information.


"First and most importantly, we understand that events like this are unacceptable. We strive to be good stewards of the environment and we take that obligation seriously. While this was an isolated event, I want you to know that we’ve taken measures to improve our operation at this facility."


Parks noted that Tyson Farms, a division of Tyson Foods, purchased River Valley, in Hanceville, in August 2018, and has been working hard to upgrade the facility over the past year.


"Tyson Foods has a high level of commitment to Hanceville and to all of Alabama. Under the Tyson banner, we look forward to continuing to execute on our corporate commitment to continuous improvement, environmental stewardship and sustainability. We are committed to making the facility better than we found it in August 2018," he said.


An estimated 220,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater was released from temporary piping the company installed by a contractor, he said.


"Since it had not yet completed the treatment process, the water that reached the Mulberry Fork caused the oxygen levels to drop," he said. "Fish died as a result of the decrease in oxygen levels. We want residents to understand this was due to low levels of oxygen in the water and not because of the release of man-made chemicals. The oxygen levels in the water returned to normal within a short time of the incident and fish are starting to return.


We continue to have discussions with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about the incident and its impact...