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 Chlorine Kills Fish in Carthage Creek

July 23, 2008 - Two state agencies were called to Carthage last Wednesday to investigate the death of fish in a creek that feeds into the Big Blue River.

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the fish died as the result of chlorine in the water. An IDEM spokesperson said Dave O'Mara Contractors, North Vernon, had been using the chlorine to disinfect new water lines they were installing as part of the town's water improvement project.

"They were purging chlorinated water from newly installed water lines that were being disinfected," Amber Finkelstein, IDEM public information officer, said. "They were being purged at two storm water drains in town, and those flow to a local creek."

An incident report prepared by Bill Myers, IDEM's on-scene coordinator, revealed that the agency received a call from Carthage resident Tim Wehr at about 9:20 that morning. Wehr told The Banner his children, who had been outside playing near the creek, alerted him to the problem.

"I went out and looked and the water was real cloudy and the fish were floating to the top or swimming to the top to try to get air," Wehr said. "It was mostly minnows, but I also saw probably about a half dozen other fish that were five-inches or so."

Finkelstein said Myers observed approximately 200 dead minnows along the half mile from the point where the chlorinated water was being purged to where the creek flows into the Big Blue. She said no dead fish were observed in the river.

Myers met with the town's works manager and water and sewer operator, Jimmie Alcorn, as well as a representative from Dave O'Mara and a conservation officer from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. In his incident report, Myers said he was told by the contractor that they had been purging water lines all summer, and that this was the only time there had been a problem.

"The foreman for the contractor said that he was not aware that the purging could cause an impact," Finkelstein said. "We instructed him that they must prevent high levels of chlorine from being discharged, and they can do it through one of three ways: They can dechlorinate the water before discharging; they can discharge the chlorinated water in the sanitary sewer; or they can discharge the chlorinated water into a container for proper management."

Finkelstein said IDEM does not know how much chlorine was released into the creek and made its way to the river last week. Wehr said he wished he had taken a sample of the water when he first saw there was a problem.

"By the time they got here, the water here in the creek had already cleared," Wehr said."If they'd gotten out here earlier, they would have seen and smelled what I had."

While a DNR conservation officer came to the scene, the agency had little comment. "There's not a whole lot we want to say about it from our end," Marty Benson, a DNR communications officer said. "That's pretty much an IDEM deal. ... Basically, our role in this is very minor."

Wehr said he and his wife were troubled that no one from the town had notified town residents that chlorine was going to be discharged into the creek. "We're pretty disappointed with that fact," he said, noting that his children and other kids from the neighborhood sometimes play in the creek.

Efforts were made to contact Alcorn, the town's works manager, for comment on this story. However, he had not returned The Banner's calls by the news deadline for this issue.

IDEM, according to Finkelstein, has not yet determined if any enforcement action, in the form of a citation or fine, will be taken.

"Environmental protection is always our priority, and we believe the contractor is taking appropriate steps to prevent any future problems," Finkelstein said. "We always review these matters to determine if enforcement actions are appropriate, which may or may not include citations or fines. At this point, IDEM is still in the process of reviewing the incident, and it is too early to say how likely enforcement action will be."


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