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Friday, June 26, 2009

Catfish Dead of Alcohol Poisoning? Or Maybe Not

A sad story in the “industrial accident” category out of northern Illinois this week.

On Friday June 19, a train hauling tankers cars of fuel ethanol derailed, killing one woman and causing the evacuation of people in the area. Two days later, thousands of dead fish started washing up on the shores of the Rock River. People have found dead fish as far downstream as the Rock’s confluence with the Mississippi.

The train derailed near a creek which feeds the Kishwaukee River, which flows to the Rock. Incredibly, government officials say the ethanol spill didn’t necessarily kill the fish; they don’t know what did, and tests of the dead fish found no traces of ethanol or of the gasoline that’s mixed in the ethanol (to prevent people from drinking it), as reported by the June 25 edition of the Rockford Register Star Even more bizarre is that one EPA official, with an apparent straight face, claims the fish kill may have been caused by lowered oxygen levels as dead fish decomposed.

Can someone explain how the first batch of fish died?

What we do know is that some of the ethanol tanks were ablaze, and firefighters kept a constant flow of water on them to keep others from blowing up. Rat wonders where that water ended up. Some locals believe the ethanol spill was coincidental – that heavy rains ran some other toxic stuff in the river and killed the fish. Then again, an Illinois DNR guy said the cause was something “caustic” that literally made the fish jump out the water to escape it.

Whatever the cause, apparently some fine specimens of channel catfish succumbed.

Rat isn’t totally serious with this closing comment, but I have to say it – you gotta wish the derailment had taken place along the already-near-toxic Illinois River, which has been taken over by the bighead (Asian) carp, an aquatic scourge that threatens to ruin the Upper Mississippi basin. YouTube has some frightening footage about these beasts, which are also there due to “human error.”

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