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Wildlife officials examine creek health after chemical plant fire killed thousands of fish

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HANOVER, Pennsylvania — Wildlife authorities are trying 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, The (Hanover) Evening Sun (http://bit.ly/1LMf0to ) reported.

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

Officials said thousands of fish were killed over a 10- to 15-mile span after the blaze and the creek was closed to swimming, boating and fishing for almost a month.

Shervinskie said Friday that fish were found in both waterways "at varying population levels." Surveyors plan to calculate the number of fish in areas upstream from the plant and use it as a reference for what should be considered 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 is expected 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 $20 million fire.


Information from: The Evening Sun, http://www.eveningsun.com

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