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Liquid nitrogen fertilizer spill kills almost 750K fish in Iowa river

An ecological catastrophe unfolded earlier this month in Iowa, as a fertilizer spill triggered a massive die-off of fish in the East Nishnabotna River. The incident, reported on March 11th by NEW Cooperative in Red Oak, resulted in the deaths of nearly three-quarters of a million fish over a nearly 50-mile stretch, reaching all the way to the Missouri border.

The culprit: a valve on an above-ground storage tank mistakenly left open, allowing a significant amount – roughly 1,500 tons or 265,000 gallons – of liquid nitrogen fertilizer to leak into a nearby drainage ditch. This, in turn, flowed directly into the East Nishnabotna River, wreaking havoc on the aquatic ecosystem.

State officials, specifically the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), confirmed that the fish kill impacted the entirety of the affected river system, spanning nearly 50 miles downstream from the initial spill site. The devastation extended into Missouri’s section of the river before finally reaching its conclusion near the confluence with the Missouri River.

DNR fisheries experts documented a staggering number of casualties – a total exceeding 749,000 fish. The most significant impact fell upon minnows, shiners, dace, and chubs, with a collective death toll surpassing 700,000. Investigations are ongoing to assess the broader impact on other aquatic life forms within the river.

Iowa regulations mandate a permit for discharging pollutants into waterways. The DNR, in collaboration with its legal team, is currently evaluating potential enforcement measures and seeking restitution for the extensive aquatic life loss.

While recent field tests indicate declining ammonia levels, the DNR urges the public to avoid recreational activities on the river and to refrain from collecting or consuming any dead fish found in or near the water.

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