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Fertilizer spill yields 'near-total' fish kill in 60-mile stretch of rivers: 'Astounding and disheartening'

"Certainly the length of the river affected is pretty large and the numbers large."

"Certainly the length of the river affected is pretty large and the numbers large."

Photo Credit: iStock

With toxic chemicals still used across industries, their effects on aquatic life are equally widespread. It then leads to pressure on food systems, as declining fish fail to meet the demand of a growing population.

Toxic spills cause concern when the effects on fish become large-scale. 

What's happening?

The New York Times reported that a fertilizer spill in Iowa killed the majority of fish across 60 miles in waters that flow into the Missouri River, resulting in an estimated 789,000 perishing. The spill expanded into both Iowa and Missouri, being seen as an ecological disaster. 

On the Missouri side, a state official who analyzed the East Nishnabotna River saw dead fish along the banks and water. 

"Calling something a near-total fish kill for 60 miles of a river is astounding and disheartening," shared Matt Combes, a supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation.  

The incident resulted from an open valve in a storage tank at NEW Cooperative, an agricultural business. The tank leaked up to 265,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen fertilizer into the East Nishnabotna River, which eventually feeds into the Missouri River. 

State officials from both sides were saddened to see small and large fishes affected in the aftermath, including minnows and catfish. According to Iowa state data, the unexpected disaster was one of the five largest on record. 

"Certainly the length of the river affected is pretty large and the numbers large," said Gary Whelan, vice president of the American Fisheries Society. 

Why is this fertilizer spill concerning? 

Fertilizers and industrial chemicals contain contaminants that can be fatal to many types of fish. In addition, water treatment plant sewage and heated water from power plants can also be hazardous. 

The effects on ecosystems last for years, with contaminated soil and water still being removed from the spill site. This can become a health hazard for community water supplies. 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Response and Restoration, over 150 oil and chemical spills occur in U.S. waters every year. 

Water contamination is no stranger to Iowa, as the effects of agricultural nitrates remain an issue for a policy-divided state. 

What's being done about it?

Incidents like these are why advocates such as Alicia Vasto, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, push for stricter regulations on toxic chemicals. 

In another release by the Daily Mail, Vasto shared her hope that this "wakes up some people" to better regulations on waterways in Iowa.  

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency updated the Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention rule. This strengthened the Risk Management Program (RMP), a Clean Air Act requirement for protections to prevent and respond to chemical incidents.

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