Several tons of dead fish have been discovered in the riverways of northeastern France downstream from a factory owned by agri-food giant Nestlé. After spending several hot days removing multiple truck-loads of fish from the river, a local fishing federation now says they have filed a legal complaint against the global food conglomerate for their role in the mishap.
The French department of Ardennes reported on August 12 that over 2 tons of dead fish have been removed from the Aisne river downstream of Challerange commune.
Ardennes Fishing Federation has shared photographs of the incident on social media, showing hundreds of dead fish that have been cleared from the river by volunteer fishermen and firefighters over the course of days. It’s also been exceptionally hot in parts of Europe over the past few weeks, so many of the fish have started to enter an unpleasant state of decomposition.
Thankfully, there is not thought to be a risk to public health. Radio France Internationale reports that local police are working to contain a spill that is being analyzed by environmental scientists for the presence of chemicals or bacteria. It’s thought the deaths were caused by reduced oxygen levels in the water.
Michel Adam, president of the Ardennes Fishing Federation, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) they have filed a complaint against Nestlé France “for pollution and violation of article 432.2 of the environmental code.” They argue wastewater from the local Nestlé factory in Challerange, which produces powdered milk for the Nescafé Dolce Gusto coffee capsule pods, is behind the environmental upset.
"I've been with the federation for 40 years and I've never seen pollution this bad," added Adam.
"Everything is dead in an area 7 kilometers long and 30 meters wide," he said. "We have three tons of dead fish. On top of that, there are 14 protected species that have been affected such as the eel or lampern."
Tons of dead fish have also been found in multiple locations across the border in Belgium, although authorities are yet to confirm these two situations are related.
Nestlé has since apologized for their role in the mess. In an interview with AFP, the Nestlé factory confirmed there was an accidental “overflow of biological sludge effluents, without the presence of chemicals” from its wastewater treatment plant on the evening of August 9.
“As soon as we learned of the report on Sunday at 11 pm, we immediately stopped production and put an end to the spill,” said Nestlé site director Tony do Rio.
“This spill was occasional over a period of fewer than three hours on Sunday evening”, he said, adding that the factory had suspended their work “for a few days” after the incident.