John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A nearby meat-packing plant is being investigated as the cause of Trinity River's platelet-rich waters
A river in southern Dallas has turned red with the fresh blood of swine, alarming environmentalists and creating the ultimate nightmare for hemophobiacs.
The bloody saga of Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Trinity River that cuts Dallas in two, splashed onto headlines this week after a model-plane enthusiast spotted a suspicious red patch in the water through his drone's camera. The man submitted a photo to sUAS News, a site devoted to the topic of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which then helped break the story of the gory river (and to many, the news that people are flying drones above our heads this very second).
Here's the money quote from the airplane guy: “I was looking at images after the flight that showed a blood-red creek and was thinking, could this really be what I think it is? Can you really do that, surely not? Whatever it is, it was flat out gross.”
It's even grosser when you get into the grisly details of the plasma's provenance. It turns out that right next door to Cedar Creek is the Columbia Packing Company, a nearly century-old source of ham, bacon and brisket.
When federal and state officials raided the plant on Thursday, they discovered that Columbia had apparently built bypass pipes that were dumping hog blood and other chemicals straight into the creek. From there, the gore drifted into Trinity, a name that should please at least one fan of Dexter's season four. The river is home to Dallas' new $4 million kayaking park.
Just how long this had been going on is unclear, but looking back, locals said they should've guessed something strange was happening. “To me, it should have been checked a long time ago, because I had an idea that something was going on with that," one man told Dallas TV station WFAA. "You never see trucks come out that carry waste material."
And then there's this chilling nugget, also from WFAA:
In court documents, an investigator says that on Dec. 15, 2011, he heard swine cries that appeared to be coming from Columbia Packing. A few minutes later, the water volume increased and the water turned blood red.
We could be wrong, but the stained river even seems to be visible on Google Maps. Look at how the tributary turns from muddy brown to dark claret in the middle of this aerial shot, taken directly north of the meat-packing plant:
This is an even more disturbing photo, for all the forensics students out there.
Columbia has denied any wrongdoing. Said the company in a statement released yesterday:
Columbia has never and would never intentionally engage in the activities recently alleged in the media. It was surprised by the allegations raised last week and was previously unaware of any such concerns. When notified of the potential issues, it fully cooperated with the government officials to answer any questions and to take any necessary action. Columbia ceased operation pending approval from the governmental agencies to resume its normal operation.
In the spirit of that cooperation, when a city councilman and deputy police chief showed up at the factory last week to see what was going on, Columbia officials reportedly kicked them off the property.
Top photo used with permission from sUAS News.