Liquid nitrogen mishap kills 750,000 fish in rivers in Iowa and Missouri, officials say

A fertilizer spill at a farming cooperative has contaminated a nearly 50-mile stretch of river, killing 750,000 fish, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

NEW Cooperative, Inc. in Red Oak notified officials Monday, March 11, that a valve on an above ground tank storing liquid nitrogen fertilizer was left open all weekend, according to a March 28 news release from the agency.

Approximately 265,000 gallons of fertilizer poured into a drainage ditch before making its way into the East Nishnabotna River, the agency said.

Gary Moritz of NEW Cooperative told McClatchy News on March 29 the company had no comment at this time.

“DNR Fisheries staff documented the fish kill occurring in all 49.8 miles of the East Nishnabotna and Nishnabotna Rivers downstream of the spill,” officials said.

The spill ended near where the Nishnabotna River meets the Missouri River, officials said.

“This was such a large amount of chemical, it more than likely killed the fish from acute toxicity … killing cells at the gills,” John Lorenzen, a fisheries biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, told the Des Moines Register.

As of March 28, about 750,000 fish are estimated to have been killed as a result of the spill, with more than 700,000 being minnows, the agency said.

Carp, catfish and bass were among the more than one dozen fish species also impacted.

The estimated value of the small fish is about $85,000, and the estimated value of the catfish would be about $115,000, Chris Larson, a fisheries supervisor for the DNR told the Des Moines Register.

A restitution payment has not yet been decided, officials said. The maximum amount the DNR can fine an entity responsible for a fish kill is $10,000, the Des Moines Register reports.

Officials say cleanup efforts are ongoing, including the removal of contaminated soil.

This is the fifth-largest fish kill on record for the state of Iowa, data shows. The state record for the largest fish kill occurred in 2001, when a fertilizer spill killed nearly 1.3 million fish.

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