Thousands of fish die after a leak in a Nestlé factory: “A spectacle of fate”

The river Aisne, near Brécy-Brières in northeastern France, was the site of a tragic August 10 massacre. Thousands of fish have been found dead by fishermen who claim that a Nestlé factory based in the city of Challerange is behind the large deaths. Volunteers, firefighters and fishermen spent three days cleaning up the river. One of these volunteers testifies.On August 9 at sunset, a significant amount of muddumped at the Nestlé plant in Challerange (Ardennes) on the river Aisne. Tony do Rio, head of the Nescafé Dolce Gusto milk powder factory,arguedthat the plant had ceased production immediately, approximately two hours after the incident started. Firefighters who called on site first tried to reduce the flow in the water.

According to the Ardennes Fisheries Association, dead fish were seen on the banks of the Aisnes in the following days. Professional and tourist activities were banned between Challerange and Vouziers for a week, and a dam was built to limit the spread of the presumed pollution along the Aisne and in the other tributaries.

On August 12, this federation launched an appeal for volunteers to come and clear the river of dead fish.

The Ardennes Fisheries Federation is concerned in this publication dated August 10 about the pollution near Challerange.

On August 12, the same federation launched an appeal for “strong and motivated weapons” to recover as many dead fish as possible from Aisnes waters.

“The smell of rotten fish was hard to bear”

Régis Piette, who has lived near Brécy-Brières since 1991, took part in the collective effort to clean up the river. He is a professional fishing guide.

I decided to come and help after hearing about the conversation via social media. I see this as a civic duty. A river must be protected, as must its nature, for all. We were about twenty people, divided into several teams, along the banks of the Aisnes. I am very sorry to see the affected river and very angry to see that it can happen nowadays. I had never seen such pollution of my eyes.
During the decontamination, the water had returned to normal color, but on the day of the incident it was black. So much so that branches that fell into the water also became completely black. The smell of rotten fish was very strong and difficult to carry. The heat had accelerated the decomposition process and the fish fed the river completely. It presented a spectacle of great fate.

After finding lots of fish on 13 August, Régis Piette and the other volunteers were able to recover most of the consequences of the pollution available in their area. According to the Ardennes Prefecture, these are at least two tonnes of fish recovered during these cleanings for an estimated loss of between three and five tonnes. The recovered carcasses were crushed in a reproduction facility in the region.

On the third day of decontamination, volunteers collected lots of dead fish. In a post on Facebook, the Ardennes Fisheries Association advised the inhabitants of the region not to touch the dead fish that are still in the banks, in a state of decay.

Destroyed fishing grounds

The Ardennes region is known in France for its natural landscapes, lakes and rivers where it is possible to fish. Both fishermen and tourists are thus greatly affected by the event. And those who make a living from this activity, like Régis Piette, suffer from it:

With this pollution, our business will inevitably be affected in the future. Fishing, and even my job as a fishing guide, will be affected. I have to move my fishing schools to another location so that the ecosystem in this area can be rebuilt.

The president of the Ardennes Fisheries Federation, Michel Adam, told AFP that all fish on a part of a little more than seven kilometers were dead, equivalent to three tonnes of fish. According to him, fourteen fish species are affected, some of which are protected, such as eels and bulbs. Experts have estimated that it will take ten years so that the fish population in Aisne returns to its normal level. A loss estimated at several “thousands of euros” according to Michel Adam. France 3 Grand Est for its part explains it 70 fishermen from Challerange should not renew their license to fish in the area.

Nestlé confirms “once and involuntary abundance” without the presence of chemicals

According to the Ardennes prefecture, the death of the fish is mainly due to reduced oxygenfound in water. An investigation has been launched by the French Biodiversity Bureau and the Gendarmerie to determine if a chemical could be the cause of the fish’s death.

For its part, the company Nestlé apologized and explained that the company generally only releases clear water in Aisne. According to the site manager, it is a “punctual and involuntary flooding of biological sludge” a priori without the presence of chemicals that took place on the night of August 9-10. “We do not know to what extent we have contributed to this pollution,” the website director added. According to the Ardennes Fishing Federation, spontaneous employees in the Nestlé factory participated in the clean-up.

Despite the company’s apology, this federation filed a complaint against Nestlé on the basis ofArticle 432 (2) of the French Environmental Code which prohibits any degradation of the natural ecosystem by discharges of waste water or waste into the waters of rivers or streams.

Article written by Pariesa Young.