Local folks concerned about fish kill

Published 2:52 pm Friday, August 19, 2011

Residents who live along the Pearl River met with representatives of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday night to have some questions answered.

For the most part residents were not provided with many answers to their questions, mostly because the governmental agencies are awaiting results from tests being conducted on the river.

Late last week residents along the river noticed a massive fish kill, lining the banks with aquatic carrion. While a definitive cause of the fish kill has not been determined, there is strong speculation that the paper mill in Bogalusa, La., could be responsible.

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A press release issued by Temple-Inland, the company that owns the Bogalusa paper mill, states they may have exceeded their daily permitted levels of discharge into the river required to maintain a healthy fish population. As a result they ceased operations of the plant on Saturday.

To help bring oxygen levels back to normal in the river, the Ross Barnett Reservoir has temporarily increased flow to 200,000 gallons per minute, Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said.

Nick Gatian, Environmental Administrator with MDEQ said at the meeting Tuesday that there has been no new death of aquatic life in the river and levels of dissolved oxygen are rising.

However, residents at the meeting shared a number of concerns, such as if the wells along the river are safe to drink from, how long it will take for the fish to recover populations, and who will clean up the mess.

Gatian said the “black liquor” that was expelled is usually treated by a biological process before being discharged into the river, but this time untreated black liquor is suspected to have been discharged  leaching oxygen from the water and killing the fish.

Manley said a warning was issued over the weekend for residents not to drink the water out of caution. But a discussion with health officials has now determined that the substance would be unable to infiltrate drinking water wells. Testing wells for contamination if it did occur would be difficult, since tests can only be conducted on known chemicals and the exact substance that killed the fish is unknown at this time.

Supervisor Patrick Lee said at the meeting that he is sure the paper company had some part in the fish kill.

“I’m 100 percent sure they were negligent when this started,” Lee said.

As for the long term effects of the fish kill, MDEQ Biologist Chuck Thompson said they would first need to determine what chemicals were discharged into the river. Thompson said live fish have been observed in the river.

Another meeting is planned for Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Pine Grove Baptist Church, where answers to the resident’s questions are expected to be available.

A release from the EOC office states a hot line has been established to provide answers to questions Pearl River County residents might have. That number is 601-749-7709. That same number is also being used to gather information from people who would be interested in helping with the cleanup of dead fish. Applicants should call that number and provide the operator with their name, number and address. A return call will be made after human resources have been established.