Chem Fire Aftermath Under Investigation

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 @ 06:07 PM gHale

Wildlife authorities want to determine if there are any long-term effects to a central Pennsylvania creek from runoff contamination from a chemical plant fire last month.

The state Fish and Boat Commission was surveying the main stem and south branch of the Conewago Creek last week.

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Officials hope to determine if life has returned to normal after the June fire at the Miller Chemical and Fertilizer plant in Conewago, PA, said Tom Shervinskie, fisheries biologist for the commission’s watershed analysis section.

Thousands of fish died over a 10- to 15-mile span after the blaze and officials closed the creek to swimming, boating and fishing for almost a month.

Fish were in both waterways “at varying population levels,” Shervinskie said. Surveyors plan to calculate the number of fish in areas upstream from the plant and use it as a reference for what should be normal populations in the creek.

“When we have an opportunity to compare them to the reference site, we’ll have a better idea of the long-standing effects of the contamination,” Shervinskie said. A report on the findings should come in the next 30 days, he said.

Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection monitored chemicals and fertilizers in the water following the fire and reported finding phosphorus, potassium, total organic carbon, nitrogen series, and metals.

“These things could be naturally occurring and could be present in an area with agricultural activity,” department representative John Repetz said. “Sample results are showing the upstream and downstream levels to be comparable.”

Miller Chemical and Fertilizer said an electrical malfunction likely caused the blaze, which resulted in $20 million in damages.