ALABAMA: Tyson Foods Fined $3 Million for Wastewater Spill

MONTGOMERY, Alabama, August 27, 2021 (ENS) – The State of Alabama has agreed to a $3 million settlement with Tyson Farms, Inc., the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork, over the company’s 2019 wastewater spill in the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River.

The Black Warrior River and its tributaries in west-central Alabama are a major source of drinking water for many cities including Birmingham, Bessemer, Cullman, Jasper, Oneonta, and Tuscaloosa.

The settlement agreement, filed in the Circuit Court of Walker County earlier this month, brings an end to litigation filed by the state against Tyson in April 2020 in which Alabama alleged that Tyson’s River Valley Ingredients chicken rendering plant in Hanceville illegally discharged thousands of gallons of partially treated wastewater into the waters of the state in May and June of 2019.

An estimated  220,000 gallons of wastewater entered the river on June 6, 2019, killing approximately 175,000 fish. Black Warrior Riverkeeper said at the time that their water samples showed double the maximum safe level of E-coli allowed by the state. 

The settlement, valued at $3,025,000, directs money to the affected communities for specific projects and mandates that Tyson take steps to mitigate against the possibility of future harm, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said.

The primary provisions of the settlement are:

  1. Tyson will place $1.5 million into a trust for the benefit of the affected Walker and Cullman County communities. The trust will be administered by a five-member committee of local residents to be named by the Attorney General’s Office.
  2. Tyson will pay restitution and a civil penalty to the State of Alabama, as prescribed by law – $650,000 in restitution to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, ADCNR, and a $350,000 civil penalty to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, ADEM.
  3. Tyson will invest $500,000 to increase public access to the Mulberry Fork. ADCNR will oversee the use of these funds to construct up to four new public access points in Walker and Cullman Counties for recreational paddlers and boaters to enjoy the Mulberry and Sipsey Forks of the Black Warrior River.
  4. Tyson will fund a $25,000 grant to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Alabama Water Watch, a nonprofit organization, to be used for the benefit of training citizens of Walker and Cullman Counties to monitor water quality conditions and trends of their local water bodies.
  5. Tyson will take all reasonable and appropriate steps to address and remediate the causes and impacts from the 2019 wastewater spill.
  6. Tyson will comply with the terms of its environmental permit and submit engineering reports to ADEM to ensure future permit compliance.

The Attorney General’s Office forfeited attorneys’ fees and any additional payments to the state in favor of maximizing compensation to the impacted communities, Marshall said.

“I am pleased to finally be able to tell the communities of the Mulberry and Sipsey Forks that the state has resolved this matter,” Marshall said. “Though my office was ready to go to trial, I am convinced that this agreement prioritizes the concerns that I heard from locals and gets money into the right hands quickly.”

“This is another example of a consumer protection case done well. The money is going exactly where it ought to go, not to the state coffers or outside counsel, but to the impacted areas. My team felt this loss deeply and wanted to do right by the locals above all,” Marshall said.

“Our state’s natural resources are sacred, and my Office takes very seriously our role in protecting them,” the attorney general said.

The settlement agreement takes the form of a consent decree, which means that the Walker County Circuit Court will maintain jurisdiction over the matter, ensuring that its terms are met. The State’s resolution of its case does not bar private suits against Tyson from proceeding.

Featured image: The June 6, 2019 spill occurred at the Tyson River Valley Ingredients chicken fat rendering plant near Hanceville, Alabama. (Photo courtesy of Worth Sparkman / Tyson)

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