COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) — In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Director Mary Mertz of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources talked in detail about the number of fish deaths in the waterways around East Palestine.
The meeting comes as a result of several reports of domestic and wildlife animals becoming ill or dying following the derailment, including dead fish found in Leslie Run.
Mertz said the day after the derailment the ODNR went to inspect the waterways to determine the environmental impact on aquatic species when they were met with the Ohio EPA, who said specialized gear was required to enter and test the water. As a result, the company EnviroScience Inc. has worked in collaboration with the ODNR to survey the waterways for dead aquatic species.
Sample locations were determined by ODNR officers who observed where there could be the greatest potential impact. The testing in the area on Feb. 6-7 survey produced 2,938 dead aquatic species, 2,200 of which were small minnows while the other 25% of species included other fish, crawfish, amphibians and macroinvertebrates.
Investigators then applied a mathematical calculation endorsed by the American Fisheries Society to calculate the total estimated total number of dead aquatic species to total approximately 38,220.
A majority of the dead fish have been removed from the waterways and disposed of so as to not affect the species that feed on them.
ODNR district manager Scott Angelo said there is currently staff on site every day, but that the number will eventually decrease as conditions improve. “It’s safe to say for the next 2-3 weeks we will continue to monitor and will evaluate that with the Ohio EPA,” Angelo said.
In regard to the long-term effects of the disaster, Mertz is optimistic the ecosystem will recover.
“This will continue for a while, ecosystem restoration is not instantaneous,” Mertz said. “We know it won’t be quick. We are very encouraged we have already seen some fish return to Leslie Run .. but I’m sure [it’s] something we’re going to watch for a long time. … We’re confident we’re going to bring it back.”
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Leslie Run continues to improve. A Feb. 15 sample showed “very low” levels of two contaminants: butyl acrylate and ethyl hexyl acrylate. Tests from North Fork Little Beaver Creek show much lower levels of ethyl hexyl acrylate and no traces of butyl acrylate.
The surface water cleanup is ongoing on a section of Sulphur Run near the derailment site. It is dammed to the east and west to prevent contamination of other water bodies Clean creek water at the eastern end continues to be funneled away from the contaminated area and then released back into the run at the western dam.
No vinyl chloride has been detected in any of these waterways.
The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is no longer detecting contaminates related to the derailment in the Ohio River.