Tyson Foods under investigation for E. coli in Black Warrior River


Joe Will Field

Fish killed by E. coli contamination have been discovered in the Black Warrior River about 60 miles north of Tuscaloosa.

Lauren Pullen, Contributing Writer

Earlier this month, Tyson Foods had a waste spill that spread E. coli, killing an estimated 175,000 fish in the Black Warrior River.

“The water samples were taken approximately 28 miles downstream of the spill and it resulted in high amounts of E. coli,” the Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brook said in a tweet. “This amount of E. coli was around 100 mL, which is double the maximum amount allowed by the state of Alabama in surface water during the summer of the recreational season.”

Multiple residents in Alabama are deeply saddened by the spill.

“The environmental effects of this spill are terrible and, as a fisherman and avid hiker, the aftermath will make the river and surrounding areas disgusting and unusable,” said James Brittle, a resident in Vestavia Hills. “It will take years for the fishery to be re-established. Until E. coli levels are reduced, it is hazardous to even have kayaks, canoes and boats on the river. And how long and how far will the 800,000 gallons travel and pollute downstream? This will be a tragedy with long last lasting damage.”

The spill took place on June 6 in Hanceville, which is about 100 miles north of Tuscaloosa and flowed into the Sipsey Fork and Mulberry Fork rivers, which are tributaries of the Black Warrior River.

“This affects everyone,” said Montgomery resident Liz Richardson. “My friends and I like to take trips to kayak in the river, and this will affect tourism to the river.”

This isn’t Tyson Foods’ first spill. Brooke told WBMA the same facility under a previous owner was fined $19,000 for killing 40,000 fish in an acid spill in 2016 – which he said was merely a “slap on the wrist.”

“I live right where the spill happened and these ‘accidents’ have happened a few times at this plant,” said Birmingham resident Keith Fink. “The plant needs to shut down to avoid this from happening again, this spill destroyed an ecosystem and generations of fish.”

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is currently investigating the effects of the spill, and on Tuesday, the Sipsey Heritage Commission announced plans to sue Tyson for its “assault on the river.”

“We deeply regret the incident on the Mulberry Fork near Hanceville, Alabama,” a Tyson spokesperson said in a statement to the Cullman Tribune. “We’ve been working diligently and cooperatively with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the 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.”

Correction, 6/18/19 6:27 p.m. Keith Fink’s quote has been changed slightly to reflect his original comment.