Officials investigate whether Pearl River fish kill is linked to paper mill

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wwltv.com

Posted on August 13, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 10 at 3:37 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

BOGALUSA, La. - Dead fish lined the banks of the Pearl River at Poole's Bluff near Bogalusa Saturday. Tiny catfish gasped for breath at the surface. Other vital wildlife, including mussels, turtles, and eels, had washed ashore.

It's something L.K. Jones has never seen here before.

"The water's black, black as paint, dead fish floating everywhere, it's unreal," said Jones, who lives nearby.

Neighbors noticed a film over the river several days ago. Saturday morning, the dark, foamy water proved deadly.

"I run three nets this morning, tuck 'em up, they had at least 200-250 pounds of dead fish per net, no live ones at all," said Freddy Lawrence, a longtime Washington Parish fisherman.

Now, multiple agencies from Louisiana and Mississippi are investigating. The source of the dark liquid appears to be a pipeline a few miles upriver. The water color, and quality, officials say, changes drastically downriver from the pipeline. And one can see the dark liquid bubbling up beneath the surface.

Officials say that pipeline belongs to Temple-Inland, an Austin-based company with a paper plant in Bogalusa. Officials say the company's allowed to discharge a certain amount of the liquid into the river, but they've never seen the water so black.

"I would suggest people stay off the water  until we can find out what happened," said Sgt. Darryl Galloway, enforcement division of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

At this point, authorities aren't prepared to say the plant caused the fish kill. But DEQ said Temple-Inland did have a problem Tuesday with the operation's waste water plant, causing them to exceed the daily maximum for biochemical oxygen demand, which measures the amount of oxygen organisms use to break down waste.

Now, DEQ says, water oxygen levels below the pipeline are too low for fish to survive.

"You can look at the water, look at the foam when a boat goes by, that's not normal," said Lawrence. "It's something happening with the paper mill."

DEQ officials said Temple-Inland has been working to fix issues at their waste water treatment facility. According to DEQ, the plant is starting to stabilize, but is still having problems.

Officials said the effects can already be seen about 20 miles downriver, near Picayune, Mississippi. But so far, DEQ officials have collected only one fish to test. They say the others appeared to be sitting for days, dead too long to sample.

And they hope in the future, residents will report anything unusual as soon as they see it. Officials said they didn't learn of the fish kill until Saturday morning.

"The thing I'm worried about is the long term effects," said Lawrence.

Officials said  they're not sure how long it'll take to figure out what caused this, or how to fix it.

In a statement, officials from Temple-Inland said, quote, "We are aware of reports of a fish kill on the Pearl River. We are working with regulatory agencies investigating potential causes."
 

Meanwhile, DEQ says Temple-Inland could face hefty fines from Louisiana, Mississippi, and federal agencies if found to be responsible for the fish kill.

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