More than three tons of dead fish were reported in the Aisne River in north-eastern France near a Nestle factory. The fish died from a lack of oxygen in the water near Challerange, 50km (31 miles) from Reims. Tests are currently being run to determine exactly what happened and to examine any pollution in the area
“Everything died in an area seven kilometers (4.3 miles) long and 30 meters wide,” said Michel Adam, president of the Ardennes Fishing Federation.
“Some 14 species have been affected, including protected species such as eels and lamprey. I have been with the federation for 40 years, I have never seen pollution of this magnitude,” the president said.”We have lodged a complaint against Nestlé France for pollution and violation of article 432.2 of the environmental code,” he added.
The Nestlé factory in Challerange, which manufactures powdered milk, confirmed in a statement that there had been an “occasional and involuntary overflow of biological sludge effluent, without the presence of chemicals” from its wastewater treatment plant on Sunday evening.
“As soon as we learned of the report on Sunday at 23:00 (21:00 GMT), we immediately stopped production and put an end to the spill. This spill was a one-off [and lasted] less than three hours on Sunday evening,” said the factory director Tony do Rio in a statement quoted by the Franceinfo website on Wednesday.
Since the discovery of the dead fish, volunteers and firefighters have been working to clean up the river. A dam had also been installed to contain the spread of pollution.
Nestle, a Swiss multinational food and beverage company, is one of the largest bottled water companies in the world and is no stranger to scandals and lawsuits. In the 90s, they got bad press for aggressively pushing powdered baby formula in areas without potable water. A death sentence to infants in poorer areas where people can’t read the instructions to boil the water, nor have the means to make the water safe. In those circumstances, breastfeeding is much safer for the child. Nestle gave out free samples to mothers of newborns and often this would cease the lactation of the mothers removing natural breastfeeding as an option.
Controversy arose when Nestle Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe once said:
“There are two different opinions on the matter [or water]. The one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.”
He later qualified the statement, after a media backlash, saying that he “believes water is a basic human right.”
During the drought in California, then Nestle CEO Tim Brown said he would not move or decrease their water bottling operations but would increase them in the region if they could.