Government tests of water samples from the Ogeechee River showed unusual levels of formaldehyde, ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, according to Environmental Protection Agency reports.
EPA Life Scientist Sharon R. Thoms sent a memo to Richard Jardine, EPA on-scene coordinator with the Emergency Response and Removal Branch, listing the findings. The memo, along with other reports, is listed on the EPA website www.epaosc.org.
After reviewing data from testing, Thoms said she “developed hypotheses regarding the causes of stress to the fish
While chemical concentrations from samples taken a few days after the fish kill began “were not high enough to kill fish by themselves,” she said “Exposure to a mixture of chemicals in combination with unseasonably warm temperatures and low flows may have been sufficient to weaken the fish … enough to make them susceptible to disease. It may be impossible to ever know for certain exactly what happened.”
While Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp and private citizens’ tests returned results with high levels of sodium, sodium hydroxide and a high ph, Thoms said “… the only chemicals that appear to be of potential concern in the surface water samples were ammonia, formaldehyde, and hydrogen peroxide.”
Formaldehyde was also detected at “levels of potential concern” in sediment tests, she said.
High temperatures and low water levels could have added to the chemical’s effect on the river, she said.
According to her report, “Formaldehyde is a skin, eye, and respiratory irritant. Formaldehyde exists (everywhere) in the environment. It is associated with textile plants producing permanent press coatings on fabrics.” It readily degrades, and if released into water, would degrade in one to three days.
The EPA took water samples May 22 and 23. The fish kill was reported to the EPD Friday, May 20.
Thoms mentioned water samples were taken from an “outfall,” referring to a King America Finishing industrial discharge pipe six miles north of the U.S. 301 bridge over the Ogeechee near Dover. Wedincamp said she traced the fish kill to a spot near that discharge pipe, but found no dead fish north of the site.
Water samples were taken from that area as well as other areas downstream, she said.
King America Finishing is a textiles plant that applies fire-retardant and other treatments to fabrics.
Thoms’ report also mentioned another concern. “Dead mussels were observed downstream of the outfall. Mussels do not contract columnaris,” she said. “Thus a combination of stressors may have affected the fish causing them to succumb to disease.”
Monday, Wedincamp commented on the EPA findings.
“It is clear that these are pollution issues in the river. They say the formaldehyde is elevated at the outfall (discharge pipe) and it’s clear it contributes to the pollution of the river.”
Environmental Protection Division spokesman Kevin Chambers said Monday that “the investigation of King America is ongoing” regarding the industry’s possible responsibility for pollution in the river.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.