As you may have heard the Temple-Inland Inc. paper mill in Bogalusa, LA discharged chemical laden effluent into the Pearl River late last week resulting in a fish kill.
On Tuesday, August 16, 2011 Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper was contacted by Jerry Wagnon, a concerned citizen and 30 year veteran of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (retired). I could tell by the tone of his voice that Jerry was quite upset. Jerry explained to me what he was seeing happen with the fish kill. He relayed to me that the fish kill was much more severe than was being reported at the time and that it appeared to him that the state agencies were not investigating the incident in an adequate manner. Jerry graciously offered for he and his friend and Pearl River Basin resident Denty Crawford to take us out and see what was going on first hand.
We arranged to meet at 9:00a.m. Wednesday August 17, 2011 at Davis Landing near the city of Pearl River, La. Denty and Jerry picked myself and LMRK Media Master Jeffrey Dubinsky up in Denty’s aluminum fishing boat. Denty piloted us on a short ride up to the property he owns between West Pearl River and Porters Bayou. It took only a minute or two to begin to see the carnage. At first it was a few fish here and there hung up near the bank of Pearl River but once we got into Porters Bayou it quickly became clogged by large rafts of dead fish and clams. There were every kind of fish that you would expect to find. Channel catfish, flathead catfish, blue catfish, freshwater drum, buffalo fish, American eel and a variety of shad and bream were the easiest to recognize and made up the bulk of the dead fish we saw. There was also a really astounding number of dead clams, many large baseball to softball size clams and smaller clams as well. The other creatures that we saw dead in large numbers were the the larval forms of the dragonfly and the mayfly.
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It was really quite astounding. I have never seen anything like it. And we were assured by Jerry and Denty that we were not even seeing half of what was there the day before. Frankly it was disturbing to see what had to be every fish, clam and larvae in the area dead in the water. I know it was particularly difficult for Jerry and Denty. Jerry spent most of his 30 year career with Wildlife and Fisheries protecting the wildlife and fisheries in the Pearl River Basin area and Denty’s whole life revolves around the swamp and the rivers there. They are his home and how he makes his living. Denty was particularly upset by all of the dead catfish (what had to be hundreds of pounds worth just in the small area we could see) as he catfishes to raise extra money to help offset some of the expenses he incurs helping mentor troubled youth from his community. Judging by the sheer number of catfish dead at all stages of life; the outlook for the catfish harvest looks grim for the next year or two assuming the fish begin recovering soon. Not to mention the anxiety and uncertainty of wether the fish will even be safe to eat that area residents will understandably feel after this event.
The natural resource damages from this incident are huge. We were over 30 miles as the crow flies from the outfall of the paper mill and we were seeing utter devastation to the aquatic organisms. The area is home to a number of the state of Louisiana’s endangered species including the ringed map turtle, the inflated heel-splitter mussel, the Gulf sturgeon and a plant called the Louisiana quillwort. Dead Gulf sturgeon have already been reported amongst the casualties of this event. However, it appears that the state agencies have not been conducting a thorough investigation of this incident. The magnitude of the incident and the sensitive area in which it occurred calls for a rigorous investigation into the kinds and amounts of toxic materials released, the species and numbers of organisms killed and all potential impacts that this event will have on the ecosystem and the animal and human communities that exist there.
This event also sends a clear message that we also are seeing at other facilities; paper mills in this state have been allowed to use outdated and inadequate treatment processes on their waste streams. All paper mills in Louisiana must be upgraded to the maximum achievable control technology as the impacts from these facilities are unacceptable and represent a significant burden on the nearby ecosystems. It is only fair that a company that is making a profit from some of our natural resources do everything that they can to prevent their operations from damaging other natural resources relied upon by others like Denty Crawford.
Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper took samples of water and affected organisms during the outing and will test them for materials likely to be found in paper mill effluent. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep everyone informed of our findings.
The flickr photo gallery with these photos can be found here: