The Nestlé Foods corporation has made headlines nationwide in recent months over everything from the future of its bottled water enterprise to its commitment to organic coffee in the Dominican Republic, but now the company is in legal hot water yet again.
The latest lawsuit against the company, which is the number one packaged foods conglomerate across the globe, revolves around an alleged environmental disaster caused in the region of France’s Aisne River, which flows close to a Nestlé factory in the northeast part of the country.
As local residents await tests that will determine the origin of the disaster, Nestlé is bracing itself for the fallout of an incident that brought death to countless sea animals across an area over four miles long and 30 meters wide.
“I’ve Never Seen Pollution of This Magnitude:” Thousands of Fish Wash Up Near Nestle Plant
According to a report from the BBC, the latest incident caused the deaths of thousands of fish in the area, most likely due to a decrease in oxygen levels in the water, the local prefecture said on Tuesday.
The dead fish were found near Challerange, about 30 miles from Reims, the prefecture said in a statement.
“We have lodged a complaint against Nestlé France for pollution and violation of article 432.2 of the environmental code,” said Michel Adam, president of the Ardennes Fishing Federation.
“Everything died in an area seven kilometers long and 30 meters wide,” Adam said, calculating the damage at between five and six tons of dead fish so far.
He added that he’s never seen pollution to the degree of what he saw this week.
“We have already recovered three tonnes of dead fish. But there are still some left. 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,” he added.
The Nestlé factory nearby manufactures powdered milk, and said 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.
A dam has been installed to help contain the spread of the pollution, the prefecture said, while volunteer fisherman and firefighters have been working to help clean up the river.
“A Spectacle of Desolation:” Lifelong Fisherman Traumatized By Mass Poisoning Incident
One fisherman named Régis Piette, who has lived in the area since 1991, helped with the cleanup effort after learning about it on social media.
The devastation allegedly caused by Nestlé has been overwhelming for Piette, who says he may have to change locations to continue his business after widespread destruction of several species of fish and aquatic life was discovered, not unlike what has happened in the United States with Monsanto and PCB pollution.
“A river has to be protected, as well as its species, for the good of all,” the frustrated fisherman said to France24.com.
While Nestlé has taken steps to address the many complaints against it, including potentially shedding its bottled water business in the near future, this is one incident that will likely take a long time to shed, especially considering what the many people in the area who depend on the river for their livelihoods are dealing with at the moment.
“The experience was traumatizing and difficult to accept,” Piette said.
“I have never seen pollution like this in the river. The smell of rotting fish was strong and difficult to bear. The strong heat accelerated the decomposition process. The river was carpeted with fish.
“The slow-moving areas and the vegetation that held the fish were a spectacle of desolation.”