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Alabama AG working on Tyson fish kill penalty

By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Attorney General’s office in now involved in the state’s action against Tyson Foods following a June spill in north Alabama waterways.

“The Attorney General, as the legal representative of the state, is involved in any court action taken by (the Alabama Department of Environmental Management)” ADEM spokeswoman Lynn Battle told Alabama Daily News. “(Alabama Department of Environmental Management attorneys, which are appointed as Assistant Attorney Generals by the State Attorney General, can represent the Department in legal matters. The penalty will be decided as part of the court action.”

The AG’s office is paying a Massachusetts company to “analyze valuation on loss due to the Mulberry Fork spill, determine economic impact on affected counties and provide expert testimony if needed,” according to a summary of the contract.

Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office declined to comment on the status of the state’s efforts with Tyson. Earlier this week, Marshall told Alabama Daily News people could “read between the lines” about what the contract met.

Marshall toured the impacted portion of river in September, according to media reports.

In June, a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Walker County dumped thousands of gallons of sludge into the Sipsy and Mulberry Forks of the Black Warrior River, resulting in the largest recorded fish kill in state history. According to Tyson and ADEM, about 220,000 gallons of waste water spilled from the River Valley Ingredients plant in Hanceville.

The company says a contractor had installed temporary piping that failed, the Associated Press previously reported. It says waste reached the Black Warrior River’s Mulberry Fork, where an estimated 175,000 fish were killed.

The company says fish died because of low oxygen levels in the water, not chemicals.

Director of ADEM Lance LeFluer told Alabama Daily News in July that “Tyson will be held accountable for any violations to the Clean Water Act, for remediation of environmental damage, and loss of use of natural resources by Alabama citizens.”

A spokesman for Tyson this week decline to comment this week.

Previously, ADEM officials have said to will take years for the river to return to normal, including its fish population

“It’s understood that it was a major hit to that stretch of river,” said Nelson Brooks, a riverkeeper for the non-profit Black Warrior Riverkeeper. The impacted stretch of river is more than 20 miles, Brooks said.

According to Black Warrior Riverkeeper, ADEM found levels of E. coli bacteria in the days immediately following the spill that were more than 30 times the level considered safe for human contract, but didn’t release that information until months after the event.

Brooks said he’d heard the attorney general was getting involved in the Tyson situation, as that office sometimes does on enforcement actions. 

Brooks said he’s encouraged that Marshall’s involvement means Tyson will be held accountable for the spill. But he said state agencies aren’t usually tough on polluters.

“I’m not going to get my hopes up too high,” he said.

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